London: The fourth day of the defence arguments in the efforts of the Government of India to extradite liquor baron Vijay Mallya from the UK was marked by questions over the role of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and its special director, Rakesh Asthana, as well as the Enforcement Directorate, by a London-based political economist.
Professor Lawrence Saez, an expert defence witness, was brought in to reaffirm Mallya`s long-standing contention that the case against him is politically motivated.
Saez, a professor in Political Economy of Asia in the Department of Politics at the School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS), University of London, said, "The politicisation of cases such as this is widespread.
It will continue to have political value.
The next general election is scheduled for 2019 and if there isn`t any conclusion to this case, it will be used for political purposes by both the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
"Further drawing attention towards the "lack of independence" of the CBI, Professor Saez said, "I`m a student of Indian political institutions.
There have been alarm bells raised about its independence by former CBI directors as well as the Supreme Court, which labelled the CBI as a `caged parrot` of its masters.
An institution which cannot act autonomously and independently without political interference."
"This is a fact that is widely accepted as true in India.
It is unfortunate for those of us who want to see India prosper.
It has remained true despite the change in governments.
In recent years both with the Congress, and especially with the BJP, there has been far less independence in the CBI than its formative early years," he added.
He also highlighted research conducted between 1988 and 2009 that looked at the correlation between election cycles and the number of corruption cases registered.
Professor Saez cited an academic study published in The Economic and Political Weekly that indicated that election campaigns saw an increase in anti-corruption cases, suggesting political manipulation of anti-corruption agencies such as the CBI.
The government, in its response to Professor Saez`s testimony, pointed to the CBI`s investigation of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination as an example of the competence and independence of the CBI.
Professor Saez responded by claiming that there had been serious breaches of protocol in the case by CBI officer in that case too.
The court also heard of the controversial circumstances leading to the appointment of Rakesh Asthana as the special director of CBI.
Professor Saez reiterated his contention that even though Asthana was not proved to have done anything wrong, the accusations against him undermined the integrity of the CBI.
In response, Mark Summers of the Crown Prosecution Service representing the Indian Government pointed to the fact that the Supreme Court had approved the appointment of Asthana as the special director of the CBI.
Professor also cited concerns about the independence of the ED.
He mentioned the National Herald case and ruling BJP MP`s aiding and abetting in the ED`s investigations of Congress politicians.
Professor Saez also said Mallya should not be held responsible for the poor lending decisions of the bankers.
In the previous hearing on Monday, a senior British executive of the Force India Formula One team, appearing as the defence witness for Mallya, vehemently denied the Indian government`s allegation that the Force India Formula 1 racing team was used to illegally channel money to the liquor baron.
Mallya`s extradition trial began at the London`s Westminster court on December 4, wherein Britain`s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) outlined the Indian Government`s case against him.
The Indian government through CPS has been contending in the court that liquor baron had misled banks back home with regard to his company`s net worth while seeking loan totalling around Rs 2,000 crore.
Mallya, who has been out on bail since Scotland Yard executed an extradition warrant in April this year, will be in the dock for the duration of the trial scheduled to end on December 14.
In the hearing on Wednesday, Alan Mitchell, a prison expert, will provide testimony. Written closing statements will be presented in the New Year.