CBI watered down airport alert on Vijay Mallya for ‘lack of evidence’

Former Indian politician and billionaire businessman Vijay Mallya, center, leaves after his extradition hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Tuesday, June 13, 2017. Mallya was arrested in London in April on behalf of authorities in India, where he is wanted on charges of money laundering and bank demands that he pay back more than a billion dollars in loans extended to his now-defunct airline. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Former Indian politician and billionaire businessman Vijay Mallya, center, leaves after his extradition hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Tuesday, June 13, 2017. Mallya was arrested in London in April on behalf of authorities in India, where he is wanted on charges of money laundering and bank demands that he pay back more than a billion dollars in loans extended to his now-defunct airline. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

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London : F1 Force India team boss Vijay Mallya arrives to attend a hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Investigators have accused the 62-year-old of paying $200,000 to a British firm for displaying his company Kingfisher's logo during the Formula One World Championships in London and some European countries in the 1990s.
London : F1 Force India team boss Vijay Mallya arrives to attend a hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Investigators have accused the 62-year-old of paying $200,000 to a British firm for displaying his company Kingfisher’s logo during the Formula One World Championships in London and some European countries in the 1990s.

THE LOOK OUT circular (LoC) issued almost three years ago against Vijay Mallya, which is now at the heart of a political spat over his departure from India, was downgraded from “detain” at immigration to merely “inform” because of lack of enough evidence at the time, CBI sources told The Indian Express.

Mallya left India on March 2, 2016, and is now facing extradition proceedings in a London court on charges of fraud and money laundering amounting to Rs 9,000 crore. On Wednesday, he claimed that he had “met the Finance Minister” before leaving India, triggering Opposition charges of collusion. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley described Mallya’s claims as “factually false”.

According to CBI sources, the agency registered a case of cheating and criminal conspiracy against Mallya on July 29, 2015, following a nationwide uproar over loan defaults by Kingfisher Airlines. The FIR was based on “source information” as no bank had approached the agency at the time with a complaint against the businessman.

On October 16, 2015, sources said, the CBI sent an LoC request to immigration authorities, asking them to detain Mallya, who was then in the UK, on arrival. A month later, on November 23, immigration officials informed CBI that Mallya was arriving the next day. But CBI asked immigration to downgrade the LoC from “detain” to “inform” on arrival, sources said.

According to CBI sources, the agency realised that if Mallya was detained, he would have to be arrested and they did not have enough evidence to do so. “We were still in the initial stage of the probe. All documents had not been obtained. No bank had approached us with a complaint till then. We believed that Mallya would cooperate better with the probe if he was not arrested,” a CBI officer said.

After the amended LoC, sources said, Mallya visited the UK and returned multiple times. In between, they said, he also cooperated with the agency.

Detailing Mallya’s travel schedule, sources said he left for London on December 1 and returned on December 7, 2015. The agency questioned him on December 9, 10 and 11, 2015.

Mallya left for the UK again on December 23, 2015, and returned on February 2, 2016. He made another trip a few days later to London in February and returned, sources said.

“At the time, we had no reason to believe that he would flee the country forever,” the CBI officer said.

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