Interview: Prashant Bhushan

‘There is a conflict of interest’

Print edition : July 10, 2015

Prashant Bhushan. Photo: Meeta Ahlawat

Interview with Prashant Bhushan, activist and advocate.

Prashant Bhushan, activist and advocate, spoke to Frontline about the legal dimensions of the controversy involving the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, the problems investigating agencies face in questioning fugitive offenders and other aspects of the Lalit Modi controversy.

Excerpts from the interview:

What effective mechanisms can be adopted to enhance action against fugitive offenders other than impounding of passports, which has not proved to be very effective?

The government could attach the property of such persons. The government should then move to extradite them. However, most of these offenders exert influence in the corridors of power as a result of which investigating agencies, such as the Enforcement Directorate, are not able to get an extradition order.

Could you elucidate the oft-cited argument that travel restrictions violate Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution?

This argument does not hold for an offender or an absconder accused of serious criminal offences. If a person is accused of violating the law of the land, travel restrictions can be placed.

Sushma Swaraj’s defence is that she helped Lalit Modi obtain travel papers on humanitarian grounds. What are the standard procedures that should have been followed in this case if indeed a request was made on humanitarian grounds?

I would think that even if there were humanitarian grounds on which the Minister of External Affairs wanted to help Lalit Modi, she should have placed a condition that he would present himself for an investigation in India. There is no clear procedure laid down in the law for this. However, given that travel restrictions were imposed on him because he was accused of a serious crime, a condition should have been placed even if the restrictions were lifted on humanitarian grounds.

What does the DoE’s inability to build a strong extradition case say about the legal regime?

There is enormous political pressure and influence exercised on the DoE.

According to the Criminal Code of Portugal, a written consent is not mandatory for surgery and consent can be obtained through other means. Does this cast aspersions on Sushma Swaraj’s defence?

I am pretty sure that his presence was not required for carrying out the surgery. His wife could have had a surgery in the United Kingdom itself. The argument of ‘humanitarian grounds’ is not plausible.

Your comments on the perception that there was a clear conflict of interest as Sushma Swaraj’s lawyer-daughter Bansuri represented Lalit Modi and her husband was his friend?

There is certainly a conflict of interest. If the Minister’s daughter was being paid by Lalit Modi for litigation and her husband was a close friend of Lalit Modi, she should not have responded to his plea for a favour in her official capacity.

Did Britain fail to follow the due procedure in issuing the travel certificate?

The U.K. is within its rights to issue a travel certificate. However, the restrictions on Lalit Modi’s travel could have been lifted only if the Indian government had pushed for it.