The Cabinet on Thursday approved a crucial Bill to confiscate assets of fugitive economic offenders like jeweller Nirav Modi and also decided to tighten the scrutiny of auditing firms by setting up an “oversight body”, effectively stripping the Institute of Chartered Accounts of India (ICAI) of some of its precious regulatory functions. The government will now place the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill (FEOB), 2017, which was cleared by the Cabinet, in Parliament as soon as the Budget session reconvenes on March 6, finance minister Arun Jaitley said after the Cabinet meeting. Once cleared by Parliament, the law will make it easier to attach all the assets of economic offenders fleeing India to escape the reach of law, even without a conviction. Offences with a value of Rs 100 crore or more will be covered by this law. While the existing Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) has provisions for the confiscation of an offender’s assets, it can happen only after his conviction, and the confiscation is also limited to the proceeds of the relevant crime. However, the new Bill provides for the attachment of all the assets of offenders, irrespective of whether these are the proceeds of crime or not, Jaitley said.
The Cabinet’s clearance to the National Financial Reporting Authority (NAFRA), as envisaged in the Companies Act, 2013, will see the body working as a regulator for auditors of all listed and large unlisted firms above a certain threshold. The ICAI, the apex body of chartered accountants that currently functions as a self regulator, will continue to be the watchdog of other smaller unlisted firms. Moreover, ICAI’s other functions, including conducting examinations for CAs, will continue to be vested with it. NAFRA will comprise a chairman and a maximum of 15 members. “We can’t allow people to make a mockery of law — that you first indulge in loot and then refuse to submit to our legal system,” Jaitley said, in a veiled reference to businessmen like Modi and Vijay Mallya.
The decision to set up NAFRA seemed to have been prompted by the government’s perception of ICAI’s inability to discipline some of its auditor-members found to have indulged in professional misconduct, said Pavan Kumar Vijay, founder of consultancy firm Corporate Professionals. “It’s a welcome move.” Commenting on FEOB, Jaitley said to attach the foreign assets of a fugitive offender, the cooperation of the relevant country will be required. FEOB will empower special courts to declare one a fugitive economic offender and allow designated investigating agencies to attach his assets, without any encumbrances.