As India grapples with the biggest banking sector fraud and rising loan default by large entities, its government yesterday approved a tough new bill that has the provision for confiscating assets without conviction in cases where the offenders flee the country.
The bill will not only allow the Indian government to seize the properties of those involved in large-scale fraud, but also deter economic offenders from evading the law by staying in foreign countries, according to the government.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley briefed reporters on the Bill and hoped that it will be passed in the upcoming session of Parliament.
"International cooperation mechanisms will also have to put in place so we can confiscate the offenders' assets overseas as well", Jaitley said.
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"The Bill defines a fugitive offender as someone against whom a court has issued an arrest warrant for a scheduled offence and who leaves or has left India so as to avoid criminal prosecution, or refuses to return to India to face trial". It will likely be tabled in the upcoming Budget Session, which kicks off on March 5.
The legislation empowers a Director appointed by the Central government as per Section 49 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 to file an application in a Special Court for a declaration that an individual is a fugitive economic offender.
The Union chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi also approved setting up of a National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA) as an independent regulator for the auditors. "The absence of such offenders from Indian courts has several deleterious consequences - first, it hampers investigation in criminal cases; second, it wastes precious time of courts of law, third, it undermines the rule of law in India", the statement said.
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The move came after Punjab National Bank last month reported to authorities about the 1.8 billion USA dollars fraud, masterminded by billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi, though he claimed to owe the bank only 775 million US dollars.
Jaitley also said that the fugitive economic offenders will be disentitled from defending any civil claim.
In the Budget 2017-18, Jaitley had announced that the government was considering introducing legislative changes or even a new law to confiscate the assets of such absconders till they submit to the jurisdiction of the appropriate legal forum. After the alleged economic offender gets declared a fugitive by the special courts, he/she would be provided a period of only six weeks to depose before the investigators. An administrator will be appointed to manage and dispose of the confiscated property under the Act.
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The bank's Hapur branch paid out loans to 5,762 farmers in between January and March 2012 amounting to Rs 148.59 crore. The bank in May 2015 declared to RBI that the loan was a fraud of approximately Rs. 98 crore.