The blame game over some of the fugitive economic offenders of India – now safely holed up in other countries – is one issue that keeps on surfacing. To a dispassionate mind, it has all been a case of sins of commission (pun intended) by the previous regime and those of omission (which include letting them escape from the country) by the present one.
This is the time to leave political allegations aside and treat this as a national embarrassment and devise means of bringing all the 'escapes' to justice in our own law courts. Yours faithfully recalls the time when President Ronald Reagan was shot at by a sniper. At the operation table, the still conscious Reagan asked the surgeon, "I hope you are a Republican." The doctor replied, "Mr. President, today, the entire country is Republican!" In a similar vein, the entire country should be united in devising means to overcome the willful looting of the nation's wealth.
True, some of the accused will continue to protest their innocence and conjure up statements like their being made the 'poster boys for all economic offenders; but then, if they were really innocent, why did they flee this country? Let them make their pleas before our courts – which are largely known for their sense of fair play.
A related issue is: what are some of the precedents that could be explored for addressing something which has now become a sort of national obsession? I would suggest we try to use the expertise of one of our now 'dearest' friends, Israel. In the mid-1980s, or so, an El Al plane was hijacked to Entebbe in Uganda. Israeli commandos liquidated the criminals on foreign soil. Much before that, in 1960 or so, we had the classic instance of how the notorious Nazi war criminal, Adolf Eichmann, was whisked away from Argentina (where he was holed up under a false identity) to Tel Aviv by the Israeli secret service agents. After the subsequent trial in Israel, Eichmann was executed for his war crimes.
India too has had some successful instances of bringing back fugitives from the law. One such case, in 1965 or so, was that of Dharma Teja, the shipping magnate (who owed much of his meteoric rise to the patronage extended to him by Pt Nehru). Later, when fingers started being raised about his financial dealings, Teja coolly sought asylum in a Latin American country, probably Venezuela. Shastriji, the then Indian Prime Minister approached the Interpol for help. When Teja landed up in London on a visit, he was nabbed and deported to India to stand trial. The issue was handled very smoothly and earned a lot of praise for the then Indian government.
More recently, we found how the criminal, Abu Salem, was extradited to India by Portugal.
The upshot of all the above discussion is that we are not necessarily groping in the dark. We have a number of precedents before us. When national interest and wealth are involved, we should explore and strictly implement the most viable options – both legal and not so legal – so that we are no longer an internationally laughing stock and show to the global community that we indeed mean business. Remember, rule of the law is only meant for those who believe in it. Those who are hell-bent on flouting the laws of the land need to be handled by different means.
[Rama Moorthy is a writer based out of Hyderabad. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his and do not reflect that of IBT]