The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018, was passed by a voice vote in the Rajya Sabha, on July 25, 2018. The Lok Sabha had cleared it on July 19, 2018. With the new law, the government is looking to deter likes of Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi from absconding. While introducing the bill in the upper house, finance minister Piyush Goyal said there have been many instances of economic offences, over the past several decades. The existing laws does not allow the authorities to adequately deal with the severity of the problem, he said.
“(Existing) criminal law does not allow us to impound their property,” he said, while explaining the rationale behind the bill, which replaces an ordinance. “This bill is an effective, expeditious and constitutional way, to stop these offenders from running away. Legislative changes or a new law must be in place, to confiscate the assets of such absconders, till they do not present themselves before the courts. We will also work out what has to be done, with the confiscated assets,” Goyal said.
Soon after the minister moved the bill, chairman M Venkaiah Naidu also remarked: “What is agitating the common man in the country, is whether the system is so helpless” in dealing with economic offenders.
Later, replying to the debate, Goyal said there cannot be a situation when economic offenders run away from the country and also protect their properties. “This bill will deter people from running away and those who have already fled, they return out of fear of attachment of their properties.”
The government is also making efforts to get those accused, who have gone abroad to escape the legal process, extradited, he said. Rebutting the opposition’s charges that the government has failed to bring back black money, Goyal said: “We are fighting against black money and forcing offenders to face the legal process.” Justifying the financial limit of Rs 100 crores, for invoking the provisions of the fugitive economic offender law, Goyal said it was being done to ‘catch the big offenders and not to clog the courts’. The Enforcement Directorate will be the investigative agency under the Act, he said.
There are provisions for special courts to declare a person a fugitive economic offender, in an expeditious manner. Once a person is declared an offender, his or her property would be confiscated, managed and disposed of, he said, adding that the attachment of properties would be done in a time-bound manner and effectively.
During the debate, the opposition members attacked the government for the lack of will to act against the culprits, despite having several laws. Congress member Vivek K Tankha criticised the government, saying there was ‘no shortage of laws in India but they get away, because the government does not have the will to stop the willful defaulters’. “Is it the government’s intention to get a lot of publicity by bringing the law?” he said, while initiating the debate and added that the country will become a ‘land of legislations’ but it ‘will serve no purpose’.
Tankha said only 10 per cent of black money was outside India and wanted to know what the government had done, to get back the 90 per cent of the black money within the country. “Why is the government pitching for a threshold of offences worth Rs 100 crores, for bringing economic offenders under the purview of the legislation,” he said, adding that ‘even an offender of Rs 10 crores, is bad’. People like Lalit Modi, Vijay Mallya, Mehul Choksi and Nirav Modi, were involved in economic offences worth Rs 2.4 lakh crores, he said.
“Law is too little and too late, as all big fishes are outside the country. Are we a country that makes too many laws with little implementation?” Tankha said and added the real test would be if any fugitive would come back.