In an attempt to stop defaulting promoters like Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi from fleeing the country, an inter-ministerial panel has recommended the Home Ministry to tighten the Passport Act. The Home Ministry had constituted a panel to look into the issue of Indian passport holders obtaining duel citizenship - which was the case with fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi.
Billionaire jewellers Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi are key accused in multi-billion bank fraud in India, and they both fled the country weeks before the CBI filed an FIR against them.
After thorough examination, the panel headed by the Financial Services Secretary Rajiv Kumar suggested amendment in the Passport Act to deal with the wilful defaulters and fraudsters fleeing the country, PTI quoted a source as saying. The panel has given many suggestions including renunciation of Indian citizenship.
Among the members who were part of the panel include representatives from Enforcement Directorate, Central Bureau of Investigation, Intelligence Bureau, and Reserve Bank of India. Besides, senior officials of Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of External Affairs were also part of the committee.
The recommendation is significant as in the cases where an individual is in possession of passport of other country, it becomes very difficult for the authorities to get hold of that person in situation of financial crimes. Just this week, it was reported that Mehul Choksi got a citizenship of Antigua two weeks before CBI had initiated probe in the PNB fraud.
In last few months, the government has taken several steps to stop economic offenders from leaving the country. After Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi fled the country, the Finance Ministry asked public sector banks to collect passport details of all those borrowers who have borrowed loans of more than Rs 50 crore. The banks have also been asked to introduce modifications in the loan application form issued to a borrower to incorporate his or her passport details.
Earlier this month, the Parliament passed the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018 - which lays down the measures to empower Indian authorities to attach and confiscate proceeds of crime associated with economic offenders and the properties of the economic offenders and thereby deter economic offenders from evading the process of Indian law by remaining outside the jurisdiction of Indian courts.
"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 don't present themselves before the courts. We will also work out what has to be done with the confiscated assets," Finance Minister Piyush Goyal recently said.
(With inputs from PTI)