Kingfisher Airlines loan case: Bombay High Court nods overseas travel to former SBI chairman

The Bombay High Court on Thursday authorized former President of the State Bank of India (SBI) Om Prakash Bhatt, summoned by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for questioning over loans to the man fleeing businessman Vijay Mallya for his Kingfisher Airlines, to travel abroad.

The court, however, asked Bhatt to keep the central agency informed of his travel dates and relevant details.

A division bench of Judge SS Shinde and Judge Manish Pitale delivered a written plea judgment on April 8 by Bhatt, who was aggrieved by the travel restrictions imposed on him.

Bhatt’s lead lawyer Prasad Dhakephalkar had told the court that his client was wrongly detained at Mumbai Airport in September 2018 by immigration officials.

Dhakephalkar said the petitioner was “forced” to file a plea because he did not want to try to travel abroad without any clarity, foreseeing that he could be detained at the airport, which would damage his reputation.

Bhatt claimed that on February 19, 2018, he received a letter from the CBI Special Investigation Team (SIT), requesting that he be present in his Delhi office to investigate recorded offenses against Mallya, so owner of Kingfisher Airlines.

The CBI had summoned him over a loan disbursed to airlines during Bhatt’s tenure as SBI chair. Bhatt said he appeared before the CBI on March 29, 2018 and answered their questions and thereafter he was never called for further questioning.

Bhatt added that he then traveled abroad for business and personal reasons and returned to India. He said he was not charged in the airline case or any other criminal case.

The court noted that CBI did not even argue that if Bhatt was allowed to leave the country, it would harm India’s security or integrity. It also observed that the CBI had not submitted observations on the recoveries owed by the claimant.

The bench said: “There is no doubt that the petitioner must cooperate with CBI. But it cannot be said that CBI was entitled to impose restrictions to prevent the petitioner from traveling abroad. The writ application deserves to be allowed, even if certain conditions must be imposed on the applicant in the interests of justice. ”

The court added: “If incriminating material is found by the CBI to prosecute the petitioner according to the law, the instant judgment and order will not interfere with the agency.”

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