Published On: Thu, Mar 1st, 2018

Cabinet nod to bill to seize assets of fugitive economic offenders

New Delhi: Cracking down on economic offenders who flee the country after committing frauds, the union cabinet on Thursday approved a bill for confiscation of properties of these fugitives and also gave its clearance to set up an authority to oversee auditing standards of large companies.

Jaitley said steps will be taken to strengthen the mechanism of international cooperation in such cases

This comes in the backdrop of main offenders of multi-crore fraud case in Punjab National Bank having already left the country and concern over auditing standards and lack of compliance of banks that gave loans to them and other such offenders.

Diamond jeweller Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi of Geetanjali group have been accused of defrauding the PNB of Rs 12,600 crore.

Briefing reporters after a meeting of the union cabinet, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the cabinet approved the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018, which would be introduced in the second half of budget session of Parliament.

The minister said that cases where the total value involved in such offences is Rs 100 crore or more will come under the purview of the fugitive economic offenders bill.

“The bill will help in laying down measures to deter economic offenders from evading the process of Indian law by remaining outside the jurisdiction of Indian courts,” Jaitley said.

There have been several instances of economic offenders fleeing the jurisdiction of Indian courts before or during the pendency of criminal proceedings.

The bill seeks to provide “an effective, expeditious and constitutionally permissible deterrent to ensure” that offenders are brought to book and banks and other financial institutions achieve higher recovery from financial defaults.

It seeks to address the lacunae in the present laws and deter economic offenders from evading the process of Indian law.

The bill provides for giving an application before the Special Court for a declaration that an individual is a fugitive economic offender, attachment and confiscation of his property resulting from the proceeds of crime as also his other property in India and abroad, including benami property.

Jaitley said steps will be taken to strengthen the mechanism of international cooperation in such cases.

The bill provides for “disentitling” the offender from defending any civil claim. An Administrator will be appointed to manage and dispose off the confiscated property.

It also provides that if the offender returns to India in the course of the proceeding prior to the declaration and submits to the appropriate jurisdictional Court, proceedings under the proposed Act would cease.

A Fugitive Economic Offender is a person against whom an arrest warrant has been issued in respect of a “scheduled offence” (contained in the schedule of the bill) and who has left India so as to avoid criminal prosecution, or being abroad, refuses to return to India to face criminal prosecution.

Jaitley had made an announcement in 2017-18 budget that the government was considering to introduce legislative changes or even a new law to confiscate the assets of such absconders till they submit to the jurisdiction of the appropriate legal forum.

The minister said that the cabinet also approved the proposal for establishing National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA). The authority is sought to be an independent regulator for the auditing profession, which is one of the key changes brought by the Companies Act, 2013.

“The jurisdiction of NFRA for investigation of Chartered Accountants and their firms under section 132 of the Act would extend to listed companies and large unlisted public companies, the thresholds for which shall be prescribed in the rules,” Jaitley said.

The Central Government can also refer such other entities for investigation where public interest would be involved.

The decision on creation of NFRA provides for creation of one post of Chairperson, three posts of full-time Members and one post of Secretary for the authority.

The minister said that inherent regulatory role of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) shall continue in respect of its members in general and specifically with respect to audits pertaining to private limited companies, and public unlisted companies below the threshold limit to be notified in the rules.

The Quality Review Board (QRB) will also continue quality audit in respect of private limited companies, public unlisted companies below prescribed threshold and also with respect to audit of those companies that may be delegated to QRB by NFRA.

ICAI shall continue to play its advisory role with respect to accounting and auditing standards and policies by making its recommendations to NFRA.

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