Vinay Mishra has been named in one of the largest cow smuggling rackets unearthed in the country.
New Delhi: Kolkata-born Vinay Mishra, who was named as an accused in one of the largest cow smuggling cases that has been unearthed in the country, has added his name to the list of Indian citizens who have managed to escape the “long arm” of Indian law and are now settled abroad.
He joins the list of Sanjay Choudhary (accused in the Madhu Koda scam, now settled in Dubai); the Sandesara brothers (accused of swindling thousands of crores from PSU banks, now settled in Albania and Nigeria); Jatin Mehta (accused of cheating PSU banks, and settled in St Kitts and Nevis for the last eight years); Vijay Mallya (settled in London); and Mehul Choksi (who till last month was a “respected” member of Antigua and Barbuda).
Mishra, who was the Secretary of Trinamool Congress Youth Congress from November 2018 to 20 November 2020, took the citizenship of the Republic of Vanuatu on 25 November 2020. He renounced his Indian citizenship at the Indian Consulate office, Dubai, on 19 December 2020. According to officials, all his other family members, including his wife, two daughters and mother and father are now citizens of Grenada.
Interestingly, of the 58 countries that India has extradition treaties and arrangements with, neither Vanuatu nor Grenada features on that list. Since 2014, India has signed three such treaties with Armenia (2019), Lithuania (2017) and Afghanistan (2016). It has an extradition agreement with Antigua and Barbuda signed in 2001.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which had registered an FIR in the case in September last year, has already questioned the wife of TMC general secretary and party MP Abhishek Banerjee, Rujira Banerjee and her sister Maneka Gambhir in February 2021, for their alleged role in cow smuggling. Mishra’s name was added in the supplementary charge-sheet filed by the CBI in the case on 24 February 2021.
As per the FIR filed by the CBI in the case, private individuals, including Mishra, connived with local senior BSF officials and custom officials, who were posted at the India-Bangladesh border, and in the 16-month-period between December 2015 and April 2017, they allowed at least 20,000 Indian cows to be illegally sent to Bangladesh for slaughter. For every cow, the BSF officials took at least Rs 2,000 from the smugglers, who earn Rs 70,000-Rs 90,000 per cow from owners of slaughterhouses. (The total value of cows that were sent to Bangladesh is around Rs 160 crore).
The CBI’s case is that Mishra is a long time and close associate of Abhishek Banerjee and whatever he earned from cow smuggling, a substantial portion of that was allegedly deposited with Abhishek Banerjee. However, Abhishek Banerjee has strongly refuted this narration and has maintained that he and his family members were being dragged into the case due to political reasons.
Though the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) of CBI had registered the FIR in the case on 21 September 2020, it had started its investigation in the case through a formal PE (Preliminary Enquiry) on 6 April 2018. After an investigation that spanned more than two years, during which it interacted with a number of its informers, and people living in the area, it finally registered an FIR in the case in September 2020.
Mishra, in his submission before the court, has claimed that he left India on 16 September 2020, which is just four days before the CBI registered the FIR in the case.
Delhi-based CBI officials said that the fact that Mishra left India, as per his own admission, less than four days before the CBI registered an FIR in the case, indicates that someone from the inside was in touch with him and was keeping him informed of CBI’s moves. “Adding names of accused, who have not been mentioned in the FIR, in the charge-sheet is a normal process as the investigating agencies during the course of investigation might discover the involvement of new individuals,” an agency official said when asked why Mishra’s name was not on the list of accused who were mentioned in the September FIR.
Mishra, who has moved the Calcutta High Court seeking protection from arrest till disposal of his petition before the High Court and cancellation of the application for red corner notice with the Interpol that was moved by the CBI, has claimed, through his team of lawyers, that he left India before the CBI investigation against him started and when he left the country, he had no knowledge about the case.
Mishra has hired Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Siddharth Luthra, among others, to defend him. Both these lawyers charge Rs 10-15 lakh per hearing, as per media reports.
As per Singhvi’s argument, Mishra’s name did not figure in the first information report (FIR) or the initial charge-sheet that the CBI has filed in the case. As per Singhvi, the CBI has no proof against Mishra to prove his involvement, except handwritten entries in a diary in which the name of the accused is mentioned.
Mishra, like others who have fled the country, took the citizenship of Vanuatu under the Vanuatu Capital Investment Immigration Plan (CIIP), under which four members of a family (husband, wife, two children) can get the citizenship of Vanuatu for $220,000, while a single applicant can get the citizenship for $160,000.
As per the plan, the whole process of acquiring a citizenship takes less than 30 days and the only legal requirement is that the applicant must be over 18 and must provide a certificate that he/she has no criminal record for the last 12 months in his or her jurisdiction of principal nationality. The applicant also has to show that he/she owns assets of value more than $260,000.
The Sunday Guardian wrote to the Indian consulate in Dubai seeking details of the application filed by Mishra renouncing his Indian citizenship; however, no response was received. The Sunday Guardian also reached out to the government of Vanuatu and Grenada with queries related to whether they were aware of the CBI case against Mishra, but no response was received till the time the story went to press.