Published by Penguin Random Publishing house, ESCAPED is a compilation of true stories of Indian fugitives in London– a new book by London-based journalists Danish Khan and Ruhi Khan decodes why London is considered an irresistible siren for those wanting to escape the law in India.
Ruhi Khan is a London based independent journalist. She has written on extradition cases for The Wire. She has worked with NDTV and Mumbai Mirror in India and was a curator at Twitter UK. She is currently an ESRC researcher at the London School of Economics & Political Science and edits the [email protected] Blog.
Danish Khan is a journalist and historian living in London. He has been covering the UK and Europe for Times Now, ET Now and Mumbai Mirror for a decade. He has taught history courses at University of Oxford and Stanford University.
In an exclusive interview with Asian Voice, they spoke about the book at length and answered some crucial questions.
Q - How did you come up with the idea of the book?
Ruhi: The idea for the book germinated with the Vijay Mallya’s extradition case and the massive interest it generated in India. The subject of extradition is absolutely intriguing. There have always been requests for extradition by India and that's why India was among the first countries in the Commonwealth to have an extradition treaty with the UK. It’s indeed surprising that there has never been a book on the subject, so perhaps it was high time someone finally wrote one.
Danish: This book is the perfect amalgamation of our journalistic skills and academic acumen. We both reported extensively on these cases, but we are also quite excited about digging through archives to unearth the forgotten stories. And soon realised that it is an absolutely fascinating history and much in need of being explored through a non-fiction book that hopefully provides a point of reference for understanding extradition of Indian fugitives from the UK.
Q - We've seen Bad Boy Billionaires, is the book an extension or more vivid account on those lines?
Ruhi: The interest in Bad Boy Billionaires shows that the world is interested in knowing about not just poverty and the underworld in India, but also the ultra-glam life of billionaires and their alleged billion dollar frauds. Our book's strength lies in the details – and significantly in unearthing the ownerships of their UK assets and chronicling the arguments in the British courts, something which is not there in Bad Boy Billionaires.
Danish: Also, Vijay Mallya, for instance faced and continues to face several cases in the UK. Our book has details of his multiple legal battles, how he bought and saved his homes in London and Tewin village. We also write about how the flamboyant party king is now reduced to petitioning the court every few days to ask for an increase in his allowance to meet basic expenses. With Nirav Modi we shed light on his life here in the UK from his posh Centre Point apartment to his cell in HM prison Wandsworth. And of course the book details his trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court and the multiple times his bail was rejected – all of which is not in Bad Boys Billionaire.
Q - What kind of responsibility comes with penning such a book which has so many legalities attached to it?
Ruhi: We have been extremely careful in our fact-checking and everything in the book is based on documents and eye-witness accounts. It is always better to be cautious and in each of the cases we have tried to present the legal battle with as much detail as possible. This is also a rich and dense territory, and many times we had to weigh what details to keep and which ones to leave out. The aim was to keep the book as accessible as possible, but at the same time retain the extradition cases as the key element in all the chapters. Even in our narrative, we haven't taken much creative liberties, and thus have fortified the book by sticking to facts.
Danish: We became fascinated with the arguments after attending the many hearings in UK courts. There is a qualitative difference between writing a report for the media based on what you hear in the court, and writing a book to provide a comprehensive picture. And hence a book becomes more challenging. Extradition cases are very complex, and we had extended discussions with legal experts who were very kind to give us time and their insights on the law. As we have mainly stuck to archives, court documents, judgments, and our extensive notes we significantly reduced the chances of error. The book has also passed through a legal read.
Q - Having researched and written so extensively about these cases, what is your major take away on this escapism?
Ruhi: There is no doubt that London has emerged as a place of refuge for those escaping the law in India. It began perhaps due to a sense of familiarity that the Indians shared with the British, the influence of the British culture on Indian life, the proximity and the ease of travel and migration. Yet the safety net comes from the faith in the British judiciary to test the requirement of a prima facie case and safeguard the human rights of the accused. This many hope will help them escape extradition.
Danish: The cases of Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and alleged arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari have only served to reinforce this image, but the fact is that there have been several such high profile cases as we show in the book, which is precisely why India and the UK signed an extradition treaty. Extradition is a complex process, but at the same time poor paperwork and slow response from India have also led to courts refusing extradition.