Vijay Mallya’s defence team today launched a stinging attack on the style of Indian media coverage and the emergence of powerful commentators, which raise doubts about a fair trial for the liquor baron in India. On day four of the 61-year-old businessman’s extradition trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London, his counsel Clare Montgomery asked a legal expert during his witness statement his views on the way the allegations of fraud against the chief of erstwhile Kingfisher Airlines have been dealt with by the media. “There is an increasing concern in India about media trials, which is connected with a change in the landscape in India where TV channels use panel discussions and such like… there is an emergence powerful TV commentators,” said Martin Lau, an expert on South Asian law who deposed as a key defence witness. He referred to the Delhi High Court setting up a committee to look into “trial by media”, where adverse media coverage might affect aspects of a trial and provide the police an incentive to achieve “overnight fame”. “It is evident from the TV cameras outside this court that there is intense interest in India in this case,” Lau said, adding that it raised concerns about the “fairness of a trial” back in India.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), arguing on behalf of the Indian government, asserted that India has a “free and animated press” that was understandably interested in this case, which involves “substantial state funds” going missing. CPS barrister Mark Summers pointed out that Mallya would have recourse to legal remedies in India if he felt his prospects of a fair trial were endangered. He challenged the legal expert to agree that there was “increased awareness” about the impact media coverage of a case could have on a trial and that the courts of India were “conscious” of the issue. “Appropriate steps” are taken to deal with it when it arises in any criminal case, Summers said.
However, Lau insisted that any such steps were “insufficiently robust” on being able to clampdown on the problem. He also claimed that many of the media reports around the Mallya’s case in India would not have been allowed in the UK or any other jurisdiction.
Lau’s testimony dominated most of Monday’s hearing as part of the extradition trial to determine if the Indian tycoon can be forced to return to India to face fraud charges involving around Rs 9,000 crores in bank defaults related to his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines. The defence’s case rests on trying to prove that the now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines’ alleged default of around Rs 9,000 crore worth of bank loans was the result of business failure rather than “dishonest” and “fraudulent” activity by its owner.