What is “Fugitive economic offender”?
- A fugitive economic offender is an individual who has committed some specified offence(s) involving an amount of one hundred crore rupees or more and has absconded from India or refused to come back to India to avoid or face criminal prosecution in India.
- A Fugitive Economic Offender is a person declared so by a ‘Special Court’ set up under the Prevention of Money-laundering Act (PMLA), 2002.
- It is against a person for whom an arrest warrant has been issued in respect of any of the economic offences provided in the schedule to Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018 and who has left India so as to avoid criminal prosecution, or being abroad, refuses to return to India to face criminal prosecution.
- Offences under some 15 Acts are listed in the Schedule to the Bill.
Salient features of the “Fugitive Economic Offenders (FEO) Bill 2018”:
- The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill 2018, aimed at preventing culprits from evading the legal process and fleeing the country was passed by the Lok Sabha on 19th July 2018.
- The Bill allows for a person to be declared as a fugitive economic offender (FEO) if:
- an arrest warrant has been issued against him for any specified offences where the value involved is over Rs 100 crore, and
- he has left the country and refuses to return to face prosecution.
- To declare a person an FEO, an application will be filed in a Special Court (designated under the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act, 2002) containing details of the properties to be confiscated, and any information about the person’s whereabouts.
- The Special Court will require the person to appear at a specified place at least six weeks from issue of notice.
- The Bill allows authorities to provisionally attach properties of an accused, while the application is pending before the Special Court.
- Upon declaration as an FEO, properties of a person may be confiscated and vested in the central government, free of encumbrances (rights and claims in the property).
- The property of a such offender, resulting from the proceeds of crime, including Benami property, can be confiscated once he is declared so by the Court.
- But the provisional attachment may happen before confiscation.
- Properties abroad are also liable for confiscation.
- The person would be disentitled from defending any civil claim.
- Further, the FEO or any company associated with him may be barred from filing or defending civil claims.
- An Administrator will be appointed to manage and dispose of the confiscated property.
- However, if, at any point of time in the course of the proceeding prior to the declaration, the alleged Fugitive Economic Offender returns to India and submits to the appropriate jurisdictional Court, proceedings under the proposed Act would cease by law.
- All necessary constitutional safeguards in terms of providing hearing to the person through counsel, allowing him time to file a reply, serving notice of summons to him, whether in India or abroad and appeal to the High Court are also provided.
- The Bill does not require the authorities to obtain a search warrant or ensure the presence of witnesses before a search.
- This differs from other laws, such as the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973, which contain such safeguards. These safeguards protect against harassment and planting of evidence.
- In keeping with the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, the burden of proof for establishing that an individual is a fugitive economic offender is part of the proceeds of a crime and it lies on the Director appointed to file an application seeking fugitive economic offender status.