How did Naresh Goyal clear immigration if there was a lookout circular?

A powerful business tycoon being deplaned and stopped from flying out of the country could any day be a scene from a racy thriller. But the dramatic sequence of events leading to Jet Airways Founder Naresh Goyal and his wife getting off-boarded from an Emirates flight to Dubai holds a mystery that hasn’t been unravelled. 

How did Goyal and his wife clear the immigration at Mumbai airport if there was a lookout circular, on the basis of which they were told to get off the plane some minutes later? With no clear answer to the question from the authorities, there are two possibilities that may have played out last Saturday when Goyal, an NRI, almost left for Dubai where he has a residence, and may have wanted to proceed to London from there. 

The first and the most likely scenario a deconstruction of the event throws up is that there was no lookout circular for the Goyals but it may have been in the making. That’s why the immigration, which had no evidence of a lookout circular, cleared them and the duo got into their first class cabin on the plane. After the Goyals cleared the immigration, an alert, either at the airport or on the flight, would have been sent to top government officials, resulting in a flurry of activity on the ground including giving the final touches to the lookout circular. By the time the Goyals returned to the Mumbai airport after being de-boarded from the Emirates flight, the authorities were possibly ready with the lookout circular issued by the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO), stopping them from travelling overseas. It is not known who at the Mumbai airport or from the Emirates flight raised an alarm that Goyal and his wife, with unpaid dues of more than Rs 8,500 crore, were leaving the country. 

Functionaries in the SFIO, under the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, later clarified that a list of around 20 persons had been drawn up for lookout circulars, based on transaction frauds and origin of funds, and that the Goyals were part of the list.
A second scenario, as to why the Goyals were allowed to cross the immigration and board the flight to Dubai, is not completely unbelievable either. That is, the SFIO lookout circular against the Goyals was already in place but the immigration failed to spot the names. Such errors do happen routinely, it seems. For example, a top banker was stopped a few months ago at an Indian airport on his return from a trip abroad. He was asked how he had managed to travel overseas because there was a lookout circular against him. The stunned executive, who’s part of a list of bankers under the scrutiny of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for loans given to the now defunct Vijay Mallya-founded Kingfisher Airlines, tried to explain that the immigration did not stop him when he was leaving the country and that he had no clue there was a lookout circular against him. In that case too, the immigration probably didn’t catch the name right despite the CBI circular being in place.

So much for a lookout circular, that by definition, is a letter used by authorities to check whether a travelling person is wanted by the police. The circular is typically used at immigration checks at international borders like airports or sea ports to monitor entry and exit of people required by law enforcement authorities. Whether or not the immigration officers are aware, a lookout circular comes with an expiry date. According to the guidelines prepared by the Ministry of Home Affairs, validity of a circular is stated by the originating law enforcement agency. Unless specified, it is valid for a period of one year but it can be extended in case there’s a request. That implies that a lookout circular stands suspended beyond one year, unless the validity is extended or specified. 

Now that elections are over and results are out, the government would like to be seen as coming down hard on industrialists, who are under the scanner. In that backdrop, the lookout circular against the Goyals is just a beginning, despite the mystery of the immigration giving them an all clear. 

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