In a massive development on Monday, the Delhi Sessions Court declared Nitin Sandesara, Chetan Sandesara, Dipti Chetan Sandesara and Hiteshkumar Patel as ‘fugitive economic offenders’. This came on a plea by the Enforcement Directorate which has charged the aforesaid persons of bank fraud and money laundering. So far, Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi have been declared as fugitives under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act 2018, which allows the confiscation of assets.
The Sandesara brothers- promoters of the Sterling Biotech Group and others allegedly swindled several banks to the tune of Rs.14,500 crore and left India in 2017. Despite the issuance of non-bailable warrants against them, the accused are yet to return to the country. As per the ED, intelligence inputs have suggested that they are hiding in Nigeria, UAE, UK or the USA.
The court verdict
During the hearing, Additional Solicitor General SV Raju submitted that the accused are shifting base from one country to the other to escape the clutches of law. He added that the proceeds of crime are somewhere around Rs.8,100 crore. On the other hand, the Sandesaras objected to the ED’s petition citing that NBWs are no longer in force.
However, Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana observed that the conduct of the accused “establishes on record that they have left India to avoid criminal prosecution and they are deliberately avoiding to return back to India to face the instant prosecution”. Maintaining that pendency of an application for cancellation of NBWs does not automatically lead to the cancellation of NBWs, he rejected the contention of the respondents on the status of NBWs. He also dismissed the argument of the accused that the instant proceedings are in violation of Article 20 of the Constitution. Moreover, the court asked the ED to approach it again for initiating the procedure for confiscating properties of the accused.
In paragraph 45 of the judgment, Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana ruled, “I have no hesitation in observing that this court is satisfied that the Petitioner has successfully pleaded and proved that the Respondents herein are fugitive economic offenders. In view of the same it is hereby declared that accused (I) Nitin Jayantilal Sandesara, (II) Chetan Jayantilal Sandesara (III) Dipti Chetan Jayantilal Sandesara and (IV) Hiteshkumar Narendrabhai Patel are fugitive economic offenders. The application accordingly stands partially disposed of. The Petitioner may reapproach the court for initiation of confiscation proceedings, after applying for issuance of notice under Section 10 (2) of FEO Act