Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill Explained

‘Runaway Bride’ is a 1999 British romantic comedy that is based on the story of a woman who made it a habit out of fleeing from the altar each time she plans to get married. If Bollywood ever plans to make an Indian sequel to the 1999 movie, the plot won’t fit the Indian circumstances as the country and its society follows a strong social system where marriages are often arranged and planned between families and a bride running from marriage is something that is often unheard of. Maybe those filmmakers can think of something in the lines of the scammers who cheat people, banks or both and evade out of the country looking for safe havens where they can lead a life, not worrying about the legal actions and punitive measures initiated against them back in their home countries.

With the latest set of legislation titled as ‘Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2017’ the government would be able to bring the willful defaulters and economic offenders under the purview of Indian law and prosecute them even when they are outside the country. The bill, when signed by the President, will also enable the government to seize the properties and wealth of the offenders and even the ones registered under benami names can now be attached to the Enforcement Department until offender of interest surrenders to the authorities in India. This is one of the boldest legislations that the Modi government has ever made in its four years of the administration. While any law’s success depends upon its implementation in the long-run, the legislation itself sends a tough message to the offenders who are abroad and even those who plan to run such a scam in the near future. The message is plain and simple; that the country no longer tolerates those who threaten the stability of the nation’s economy. Kudos to the government!

The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill of 2017 is one of the most recent sets of legislative reforms made to accommodate the growing threats against the financial system in the country in the form of willful defaults and manipulation of financial instruments by the richest of the rich to fill their coffers at the cost of the Indian financial system. According to the definition given in the bill, a fugitive economic offender is “…..any individual against whom a warrant for arrest in relation to a scheduled offence has been issued by any court of India who, either leaves or has left India to avoid criminal prosecution or refuses to return to India to face criminal prosecution” (see the draft bill at dea.gov.in). The bill also has a comprehensive list of offenses that would henceforth be counted under the purview of the bill. The bill empowers the government to take over the listed and unlisted, hidden properties of such individuals, who are alleged of wrongdoing. While the bill isn’t clear about its applicability retrospectively, the Union Finance Minister Hon. Arun Jaitley made it clear that the law would be applicable to all such cases, “old and new.”

While the law looks fascinating from outside, a clear scrutiny of its provisions might help one of bringing out certain loopholes within the law, which can be used by the ‘fugitives’ to question its applicability and in a worst case, even the constitutional validity of the law itself. For example, the provision that permits the government to take over the property of the individual in question-based on allegations and not the final conviction can be questioned in a court of law. This would also mean that, in the case of a partnership firm, even if one single individual engages in such wrongdoing, every another individual who is associated with the respective firm will have to fear a possible loss of wealth and property as the government can now raise allegations and take over the same from such individuals. The new law may also create instances where the properties of an alleged individual are taken over, which in turn may have a higher value than that of the amount he or she is deemed to repay as liabilities.

However, these are mere ‘possibilities’ and it needs to necessarily mean that they can halt the avenues of reform that the law itself can bring in the country’s financial system, that is already infected by the non-performing assets and bad loans crisis.
Like every law, this law too has certain drawbacks in terms of its applicability and the clarity over ‘what exactly constitutes to the fugitive economic offense and at what point, the allegation can be raised’. However, the law itself is tougher compared to its predecessor of 2013 and can send a tough message to such manipulators and deter their tendency to commit an economic crime.

Picture Credits: Live Law



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