By LE Desk

Mumbai, April 8: The Bombay High Court on Thursday allowed former State Bank of India (SBI) chairman Om Prakash Bhatt, summoned by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for interrogation over loans to fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya for his Kingfisher Airlines, to travel abroad.

The court, however, asked Bhatt to keep the central agency informed of his travel dates and relevant details.

A division bench of Justice S S Shinde and Justice Manish Pitale on April 8 passed a judgment on writ plea by Bhatt, who was aggrieved by travel restrictions imposed on him, The Indian Express reported.

Senior Counsel Prasad Dhakephalkar for Bhatt had told the court that his client was wrongly detained at the Mumbai airport in September 2018 by immigration officials.

Dhakephalkar said the petitioner was “constrained” to file the plea since he did not wish to try to travel abroad without any clarity, anticipating that he might be further detained at the airport, which would harm his reputation.

Bhatt submitted that on February 19, 2018, he had received a letter from CBI special investigation team (SIT), asking him to be present in its Delhi office for probe in connection with offences registered against Mallya, then owner of Kingfisher Airlines.

The CBI had summoned him pertaining to loan disbursed to the airlines during Bhatt’s tenure as the SBI chairman. Bhatt said he had appeared before the CBI on March 29, 2018, and answered their questions and thereafter, he was never called for further questioning.

Bhatt added that he had then travelled abroad on business and personal purposes, and returned to India. He said that he is not an accused in the case concerning the airlines or in any other criminal case.

The court noted that CBI did not even argue that if Bhatt was permitted to leave the country, it would be detrimental to the security or integrity of India. It also observed that the CBI did not make submissions on any recovery due from the petitioner.

The bench held, “There can be no doubt that the petitioner needs to co-operate with CBI. But, it cannot be said that CBI was entitled to impose restrictions to prevent the petitioner from travelling abroad. The writ petition deserves to be allowed, although certain conditions need to be imposed on the petitioner in the interest of justice.”

The court added, “If any incriminating material is found by the CBI to proceed against the petitioner in accordance with law, the instant judgment and order will not come in the way of the agency.”

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