India has seen plenty of cases where the wealthy, in fear of being caught and tried for offences allegedly committed by them, abscond from the country and continue to live prosperous lives. They usually end up in other countries from where it is difficult for them to be extradited and tried in the court of law.
But if a draft of the new bill which the central government has unveiled comes to become law, such fugitives will not be able to enjoy the gains from the illicit wealth that they may have gained in the country, even if they are able to escape from the jurisdiction of the law of the land.
The union government is seeking to bring in a new law which would allow the courts to order the confiscation of properties of "fugitive economic offenders" who flee the country.
The need for this can be seen in the background of the recent case of the liquor baron, Vijay Mallya, who defaulted on loans worth Rs 9,000 crore taken from government banks linked to his Kingfisher Airlines, and fled to the United Kingdom after the case against him started to pick up speed.
A government statement related to the proposed "Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2017" said, "It is widely felt that the spectre of high-value economic offenders absconding from India to defy the legal process seriously undermines the rule of law in India. It is, therefore, felt necessary to provide an effective, expeditious and constitutionally permissible deterrent to ensure that such actions are curbed."
Earlier during the budget speech for the current fiscal year, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had talked about the government considering to bring in legislative changes or a new law regarding the confiscation of assets of such absconders till they present themselves in front of a legal forum in the country. The draft legislation has provisions for courts to declare a person as a fugitive economic offender.
A person with an arrest warrant issued in a scheduled offence and who has fled from the country in order to avoid criminal prosecution or refuses to return to the country to face such an action can termed as a fugitive economic offender by a special court under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
To avoid the courts from being over-burdened with such cases, the bill will be applicable to cases where the total value involved in such offences is Rs 100 crore or more. And after a person is declared as a fugitive economic offender, proceeds of crime, whether or not such property is owned by such a person and any other property owned in India by them can be confiscated and vested in the government of India free from all encumbrances.
The central government has asked for comments and suggestions from the public and other stakeholders on the draft bill till June 3 of this year. Once approved by Parliament, the new law will override all other legislation regarding economic offences. "There have been several instances of economic offenders fleeing the jurisdiction of Indian courts, anticipating the commencement, or during the pendency, of criminal proceedings," a finance ministry statement reportedly said.