New Delhi: The Parliament on Wednesday approved a legislation to help the government bring back fugitives involved in white-collar crimes to stand trial in India.

The fugitive economic offenders bill, 2018 will become law after the President’s assent and will empower the government to seize both local and overseas assets of alleged offenders, such as Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, who chose not to return to India to face the law even after arrest warrants were issued.

This will help the government confiscate properties of fugitives even before they are convicted, said finance minister Piyush Goyal in his reply to the debate in Rajya Sabha.

The ministry of external affairs informed Parliament on Wednesday that 28 Indians involved in financial irregularities had fled the country in the period between 2015 and 30 June 2018. The list was compiled by the Central Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement Directorate (ED), and includes names like Mallya, Nirav Modi and his brother Neeshal Modi, Lalit Modi and Choksi.

Messages sent to lawyers of Nirav Modi and Choksi, and to Mallya’s spokesperson remained unanswered till press time. Lalit Modi could not be reached for comment.

It seeks to target fugitives for offences exceeding 100 crore. The bill will extend not only to loan defaulters and fraudsters, but also to individuals who violate laws governing taxes, black money, benami properties and financial corruption. According to the provisions of the bill, all individuals attempting to evade the Indian legal process from the date of the enactment of the law will be covered. The confiscation of property will not be limited to those acquired through the proceeds or profits of the crime.

The bill also provides for confiscation of benami properties. ED will be the apex agency to implement the law. The government has also inserted a clause to protect itself and officers from any legal action. Those classified as fugitives will also not be able to pursue civil cases in India unless they come back to India and face prosecution.

The bill was initially envisaged as part of the Union Budget 2017 to bring to task wilful defaulters such as Mallya. Given that the bill was not passed when it was first introduced in the budget session of Parliament, the government decided to bring an ordinance till a law is enacted. Armed with the ordinance, the ED has already initiated the process to tag Mallya, Modi and Choksi as fugitives.

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