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ED accelerates efforts to bring back 14 economic offenders holed up in tax and fugitive havens

It continues to be an uphill battle for ED to lay its hands on Mallya, Nirav Modi

mallya modi nirav mehul A collage (clockwise) of Vijay Mallya, Mehul Choksi and Nirav Modi

Fourteen people, guilty of economic offences involving Rs 100 crore or more, have been listed as fugitive economic offenders by the Enforcement Directorate, which is speeding up efforts to bring back the fugitives.

Of the 14 people, nine—Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Nitin Sandesara, Chetan Sandesara, Dipti Chetan Sandesara, Hitesh Kumar Narendrabhai Patel, Hajra Iqbal Memon, Junaid Iqbal Memon and Asif Iqbal Memon—have already been declared fugitive economic offenders by the competent courts.

Sources in ED said in other cases, the matter is actively being pursued in courts as the government wants speedy recovery of black money, compensate banks which have incurred losses and lay its hands on offenders who have sought refuge in tax and fugitive havens like London, Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda.

The recent embarrassment over PNB scam accused Mehul Choksi’s flight from Antigua to Dominica and back, where Indian agencies failed to lay their hands on him, has added impetus to efforts being made by the government both at the level of investigation and plugging legal gaps to speed up the process.

Five others against whom the ED has filed applications in different courts to declare them fugitive economic offenders are: PNB scam accused Mehul Choksi who is in Antigua; controversial televangelist Zakir Naik who is Malaysia and has been facing money laundering charges for more than five years now, but has not been declared an FEO by the court yet; Nitish Thakur, a former deputy collector with the Maharashtra housing and area development, facing allegations of disproportionate assets and money laundering; Jatin Mehta of the Gujarat-based Winsome Diamond Group, accused in a case of bank fraud; and Sanjay Bhandari against whom the ED began probe following a complaint filed by the Income Tax Department under the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets ) and Imposition of Tax Act , 2015.

The latest ED list of cases under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018, was drawn up on August 31 this year and shared with the government which is busy examining the progress that is being made in bringing money back to the banks that have suffered losses in scams as well as the fugitives who have robbed the government exchequer causing huge losses. In July 2020, properties of Nirav Modi, valued at Rs 329.66 crore, were confiscated to the central government, which is being seen as a positive impact of the FEO Act that came into force in 2018.

Outgoing ED director S.K. Mishra, whose extended tenure ends in November, has been focusing on bringing back the economic fugitives, and the first task cut out for the next director will be to focus on the pending list before him. Sources said this matter is expected to grab his attention as soon as he takes charge, particularly because it continues to be an uphill battle for the ED to lay its hands on Mallya who is fighting extradition in UK, or bring back Nirav Modi, who is in UK jail fighting his extradition case in the multi-crore PNB bank fraud case. Others like Sandesara brothers of Vadodara- based Sterling Biotech have been evading the ED investigations despite being put on the FEO list. The losses caused by Mallya are highest pegged at Rs 12,500 crore, Nirav Modi and Choksi at around Rs 4,000 crore, Jatin Mehta , Thakur and Naik and others between Rs 200–100 crore respectively.

The FEO Act gives precedence to the state to seize the properties of a person declared “fugitive” over private lenders who may be seeking to settle their own dues. The state then decides remittance to the victims.  

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