Bill approved to confiscate all assets of 'fugitive offenders'

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While the bill provides for confiscation of overseas assets too, the minister said that it will depend on cooperation of foreign governments.

The Union Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has approved the proposal to introduce Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill 2018 in the Parliament, said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday.

While explaining why confiscation of assets has been provided for, Jaitley said, "A trial of fugitive will never be complete". The new law will apply "the moment warrant is issued (and) the court decides the man is not submitting" himself before law, he added.

The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill 2017 was first mentioned by Jaitley in his Budget speech in 2017-18, against the backdrop of bringing back Vijay Mallya, who owes over Rs 9,000 crore in the Kingfisher Airlines fraud case.

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Jaitley also said that fugitive economic offenders will be disentitled from defending any civil claim. But if he sends a lawyer while choosing to stay away from India, a hearing would start to have him declared a "fugitive economic offender".

- As per the draft Bill approved by the Law Ministry, special courts will be set up under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

The bill will now go to Parliament for its approval and then to President Ram Nath Kovind who will sign it into law as mandated under the Indian Constitution. New and old cases of persons who have fled the country to avoid prosecution will come under its ambit.

The proposed law aims to impound and sell assets of Nirav Modi-type escapees, a move that will allow quicker recovery of dues through a special court from absconding corporate defaulters. It can also order that the proceeds of the crime, or any property owned by the offender shall stand confiscated by the Central government.

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He added: "We had announced in last year's budget that we would bring in a law to confiscate the properties of economic offence fugitives".

The country's second-largest state-owned lender, Punjab National Bank, recently reported fraudulent transactions of about Rs 11,400 crore at its mid corporate branch in Mumbai, and said "based on these transactions, other banks appear to have advanced money to these customers overseas".

"The existing civil and criminal provisions in law are not entirely adequate to deal with the severity of the problem" said the government.

"The jurisdiction of NFRA for investigation of chartered accountants and their firms under Section 132 of the Act would extend to listed companies and large unlisted public companies, the thresholds for which shall be prescribed in the Rules".

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