In a setback to liquor baron Vijay Mallya, the Supreme Court on Monday rejected his plea challenging criminal proceedings for wilfully disobeying an Enforcement Directorate summons seeking his presence relating to a $200,000 payment to a British company for displaying the Kingfisher logo during 1996-98 Formula 1 events.
Dismissing the appeal, a bench of Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel also fined Mallya an "exemplary" cost of Rs.10 lakh that will go to the Supreme Court Legal Service Authority.
Rejecting his plea, the bench in its judgment said: "We do not see any merit in the appeal. We are also of the opinion that the entire approach adopted by the appellant (Mallya) is a sheer abuse of the process of law."
"Any other view of the matter would only go to once again establishing the notorious truth stated by Anatole France that 'the law in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread'," said Justice Goel pronouncing the judgment.
Mallya had challenged a Delhi High Court verdict of May 21, 2007, turning down his plea against the ED summons for violating the now defunct Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) for not responding to the summon issued to him four times.
He was summoned on four occasions - September 27, 1999, November 8, 1999, November 26, 1999 and December 21, 1999.
In the first instance, Mallya got summons after the date of appearance but for the subsequent two, he had sought the date and in the case of fourth, he had contended that the summons were not by registered post as required under the procedure.
Taking a dig at Mallya over the tenor of his letter explaining his inability to appear on November 8, the court said: "From the tenor of the letter, it appears that it was not a case of mere seeking accommodation by the appellant (Mallya) but requiring date to be fixed by his convenience."
"Such stand by a person facing a allegation of serious nature could hardly be appreciated. Obviously, the enormous money power makes him believe that the state should adjust its affairs to suit his commercial convenience," it observed.
Holding that Mallya's plea required to be dismissed for more than one reason, the court said that the mere fact that the adjudicating officer chose to drop the proceedings against him "does not absolve" him of the "criminal liability incurred" by him by not responding to the summons to appear before the official in question.
Mallya had allegedly paid $200,000 to Benetton Formula Ltd for displaying his Kingfisher logo in the Formula One World Championships that was to be held in London and other European countries in 1996, 1997 and 1998, allegedly without the Reserve Bank of India's prior approval in violation of the FERA.
His subsequent application to the finance ministry on June 19, 1996 seeking approval for the payment made to British company was rejected on February 4, 1999.