Indian President Ram Nath Kovind has given his assent to the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018, which seeks to prevent economic offenders from fleeing the country and evading the legal process.
The bill was passed by the upper house of the Parliament, the Rajya Sabha through a voice vote on July 25, 2018. The Lok Sabha had cleared the bill on July 19 after almost a two-hour long debate.
The ruling government has been under attack from the opposition for failing to bring back defaulters like Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi.
About the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill
The bill aims to lay down measures to deter fugitive economic offenders from evading the process of Indian law by remaining outside the jurisdiction of Indian courts.
The bill’s implementation is expected to restore law and order, as the fugitive economic offenders would be forced to return to India to face trial for their offences.
The bill would also help the banks and other financial institutions to achieve higher recovery from financial defaults committed by such fugitive economic offenders and thus improving the financial health of such institutions.
A fugitive economic offender is any individual against whom a warrant for arrest in relation to a scheduled offence such as cheating, forgery or corruption has been issued by any court of India who, either leaves or has left India to avoid criminal prosecution or refuses to return to India to face criminal prosecution.
Salient Features of the Bill
• The bill provides for the creation of a ‘Special Court’ under the Prevention of Money-laundering Act, 2002 to declare a person as a Fugitive Economic Offender.
• The process of repatriation of an economic fugitive under the act begins with the submission of an application before the special court declaring that an individual is a fugitive economic offender.
• After going through the application, the special court would issue a notice to the individual alleged to be a fugitive economic offender.
• This would be followed by confiscation of the individual’s properties, located both in India and abroad including benami property, resulting from the proceeds of crime.
• The offender would be disentitled from defending any civil claim.
• If at any point during the course of the proceedings the alleged Fugitive Economic Offender returns to India and submits to the appropriate jurisdictional Court, proceedings under the proposed Act would come to an end.
• The Bill was first announced in Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s 2017 Budget speech.
• India has witnessed several instances of economic offenders fleeing the country to avoid facing criminal proceedings such as industrialist Vijay Mallya and recently, billionaire jewellery designer Nirav Modi.
• Most of the cases involve non-repayment of bank loans, which is worsening the financial health of the banking sector in India.
• The existing civil and criminal provisions in the law are not entirely adequate to deal with the severity of the problem.