Truth behind how Vijay Mallya fled India

[Book extract] Those in the know of things say that the UK is the perfect haven for somebody like Mallya

 |   Long-form |   26-07-2017
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As the clock struck midnight on December 18 2015, two sets of fireworks rent the night air at Candolim and Sinquerim beaches in Goa; they were so loud they could be heard in Panaji 18km away, startling the locals. The fireworks went on for a full five minutes without a break. Tourists still ambling on the beaches took out their phones and cameras to capture the display. The occasion was the 60 birthday of the "King of Good Times", Vijay Mallya.

Mallya was already deep in hot water, the banks having declared him a wilful defaulter, but this in no way diminished the grandeur and scale of the celebrations for his landmark birthday at his home in Kingfisher Villa on the Goa beachfront.

In attendance were 200 friends and well-wishers who had flown in from every corner of India and all parts of the globe, and were staying at the nearby Taj Holiday Village and Taj Fort Aguada. The guests were treated to a two-hour non-stop session of Bollywood numbers by Sonu Nigam, who concluded it with "Tum jiyo hazaron saal, saal ke din ho pachas hazar".

But the chief attraction of the evening was the king of Latin pop, international icon Enrique Iglesias, who had travelled across the globe to sing for Mallya. He belted out his 2014 chart-topper "Bailando" to say happy birthday as Mallya’s son Siddharth touched his father’s feet on stage, seeking his blessings.

The grapevine had it that $2 million was spent on the party, described as "the mother of all bashes". Even as the extravagant party was in full swing, Kingfisher Villa had a sword dangling over it; its takeover by the lenders whom Mallya had defaulted had been permitted by the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court.

This was to be the last of Mallya’s many, many high-end events at the villa. The party drew adverse comments from many quarters, among them Raghuram Rajan, then governor of the Reserve Bank of India, who said in a characteristic understatement: ‘If you flaunt your birthday bashes while owing the system a lot of money, it does seem to the public that you don’t care. I think this is the wrong message to send. If you are in trouble you should be cutting down your expenses."

mallyabd_072617063915.jpgMallya, who appeared to live from party to party, had always celebrated his birthdays in grand style.

Rajan did not name Mallya in this statement reported in the Times of India on January 23, 2016, but everybody understood whom he was referring to. The staff of the grounded Kingfisher Airlines also expressed their disgust. "He (Mallya) does not have money to pay our dues. How can he have such gala bashes and be insensitive to our sufferings?" they complained, even as it surfaced that some of Mallya’s close associates had cautioned him against such a lavish affair.

They had advised him to limit the celebrations to a party in London, where he maintained a home. He would then be far away from prying eyes in India, where not only banks but also investigating agencies were on his trail. But these words of caution fell on deaf ears. Mallya couldn’t care less about what people said.

Mallya, who appeared to live from party to party, had always celebrated his birthdays in grand style, although the years since Kingfisher Airlines got into trouble had been marked by low-key events. In 2013, there had been an exclusive do at Niladri, his residence off Napean Sea Road, an upmarket locality in Mumbai. Some of his birthday bashes had been on Indian Empress, the superyacht he owned.

His 50th birthday celebrations — at the same spot in Goa as his 60th — had also happened in immoderate style, having been an all-night affair, with the American singer Lionel Richie entertaining guests who had been ferried from all over by two Kingfisher Airlines planes requisitioned just for the party.

The invite sent out by Mallya said: "When I turned 40 a decade ago, I was fortunate to have joined by my closest friends over a three-day celebration that included themed events. While I cross another milestone, I am planning on an exciting but somewhat chilled out series of rendezvous with the Sun, sand and sea in Goa." Top industrialists, Bollywood stars, politicians and an assorted assemblage of the wealthy and the fashionable had turned up.

Less than two-and-a-half months after his 60th birthday, Mallya spirited himself out of India and away from the reach of the long arm of the law. The buzz in New Delhi was that he had been tipped off by a mandarin that he could be soon behind bars as legal proceedings against him were imminent. The tip was not passed on to Mallya directly; a high-profile fixer-cum-socialite was able to wring this information out of the mandarin and had passed it on to Mallya, who lost no time in making his exit.

Mallya had also come to know that on February 28, 2016, senior Supreme Court counsel Dushyant Dave had advised the State Bank of India to approach the courts to restrain Mallya from leaving the country. The SBI took its time to act, but Mallya did not. On the night of March 1, 2016, Mallya, holding a diplomatic passport — by virtue of his being a Member of Parliament — whizzed through immigration with ease and boarded the London-bound Jet Airways flight 9W-122 from New Delhi.

According to newspaper reports, Mallya occupied seat 1D in first class and was accompanied by a lady who was later identified as his current girlfriend, Pinky Lalwani, once a hostess on Kingfisher Airlines. Mallya had carried seven pieces of luggage, indicating that this was no short business trip. Usually this quantity would account for the luggage of at least five passengers.

mallyabd1_072617064444.jpgVijay Mallya with son Siddharth.

At the airport, Jet Airways staff loaded Mallya’s luggage while he retired to the premium plaza lounge. It appeared that Mallya had spent an hour in the lounge. News reports said he walked slowly — very slowly — out of the lounge, and that the immigration officials noticed his exit but did not do anything to prevent him from boarding his flight. They had no orders to detain him or to prevent his exit. The reports also said Mallya’s tickets had been booked only hours in advance (the same day in the afternoon), giving credence to the theory that he scooted post-haste after learning that danger was at his heels.

A lookout notice for Mallya had been issued by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to the Bureau of Immigration on October 16, 2015. This would have led to his detention the moment he presented himself at any immigration counter. Now, a lookout notice is usually not revised, but Mallya, besides being an MP, had top contacts; little wonder then that the notice was amended barely a month later, on November 24, 2015. The amended notice required the immigration authorities to merely inform the CBI about his movements; it did not authorise them to detain him.

It is interesting too that he had arrived in India from an overseas trip on the night of November 24, a few hours after the CBI had amended its lookout notice. Earlier on the same day that he finally fled India, Mallya had been spotted in the lobby of Rajya Sabha, of which he was member. Nobody who met him there had any clue that he would soon make his escape out of the country.

A couple of hours after Mallya was well airborne, then CBI director Anil Sinha lambasted the chiefs of India’s top banks, including the SBI chairman, for not filing complaints against him in good time, telling them how their tardiness had delayed action against the liquor baron.

At the annual session of the Indian Banking Association, the CBI chief would remind the bankers that his agency had to file cases suo motu against Mallya in the absence of first information reports initiated by banks. Sinha was quite unaware for some time that the liquor baron had flown away for good, as Mallya had been frequently flying in and out of the country in the recent past.

He had flown out on December 1, 2015 and had returned on December 7; he had flown out again on December 23 and returned on February 2, 2016. His last overseas trip before his escape to London was to Barbados in the West Indies, where he was negotiating the purchase of a cricket team for the Caribbean T20 cricket league. During this visit he also met with the prime minister of Barbados, Freundel Stuart, in the end bagging the Barbados Tridents.

To confuse the agencies chasing him, Mallya later claimed that he had paid just $100 to win the team. But realising that nobody would be fooled by this claim, he said many months later that the cost of running the team for a season would be $2 million. He also claimed that he had bought the team in a joint venture and the Barbados government would give him subsidies to run the franchise. "They are keen to help," he said.

It was only on March 9, 2016 that the news of Mallya’s escape became public when the Attorney General of India Mukul Rohatgi informed the Supreme Court about it. All hell broke loose. Questions were asked about how Mallya had escaped in spite of a lookout notice against him, and the CBI was forced to clarify that it had downgraded its advisory to the immigration authorities because the case against Mallya was at a preliminary stage and there was no clinching evidence against him other than that he had reneged on repayments to banks.

The CBI also said that lookout detention orders were usually made against individuals for whom there were nonbailable warrants. There was none against Mallya. That he had fl own out of the country many times and had returned was evidence that he would not abscond and that he would be available for questioning if required in the future, CBI officials argued.

Mallya himself tweeted on the same lines on March 11, 2016: "I am an international businessman. I have to travel to and from India frequently. I did not flee from India and neither I am an absconder. Rubbish."

The CBI was proved wrong. On February 25, less than a week before he fled the country, Mallya had got a huge severance package from United Spirits Limited (USL). This was a company that he had built but had subsequently lost control of after the Kingfisher Airlines fiasco. The company had been taken over by the world’s largest liquor manufacturer, Diageo Plc, in 2013. But since USL was a company that Mallya had built from 1983 — when he took charge of it after the demise of his father — he had an emotional connect with it.

Diageo thought it fit to allow Vijay Mallya to continue as chairman of the company. Although Diageo had done its due diligence on USL before taking it over, the Indian company still had many a hidden skeleton, which Diageo discovered only after taking control of it. Alarmed by what it saw, Diageo commissioned a special audit of the books of accounts of USL, only to be confronted with the fact that Mallya had transferred Rs 1,225 crore from the company to entities that he privately controlled. Immediately the new management of USL asked him to step down.

book_072617065213.jpgKingfizzer: The Rise and Fall of Vijay Mallya, by Kingshuk Nag; Haper Collins India; Rs 399.

At first he refused but later agreed — on the condition that he would be paid a severance package, of which US$40 million would be paid upfront and the rest in tranches over fi ve years. Mallya scooted as soon as he got the money. During the run-up to this, the CBI had no clue about what was going on. If the agency had well-informed sources, it could have filed a criminal complaint against Mallya for making away with cash from USL and arrested him as he attempted to board a fl ight out of the country.

The CBI, however, did have some clue that Mallya had allegedly pilfered cash from the company because it was around the same time that it made a reference of the matter to the Enforcement Directorate (ED), which looks after violation of provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PFMLA).

Though the Diageo-controlled USL informed the bourses about the fi ndings of its audit and also disclosed details of the deal to get Mallya off its back, it informed them about the money transaction with him only after the cash had been paid. Consequently, a stay on this payment by the Bangalore bench of the Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT) on March 7, 2016 was infructuous, and banks looking for recovery of their cash from him were left high and dry.

It was again on March 7 that the ED fi led cases of money laundering against him; around the same time the SBI approached the Supreme Court to block his exit from India by cancelling his passport. But he had already fled the country, a fact that had to be then disclosed before the Supreme Court. Safely ensconced in the United Kingdom, Mallya released a statement on March 6 that gave the impression that he was still in India. The statement accused the media of starting a witch-hunt against him.

He asserted that he would always be available to investigating agencies. He pointed out that he was an NRI and had been one for 28 years, implying that flying in and out of India was routine for him. "I have no intent or reason for absconding," he said. He claimed that there was no evidence of his wrongdoing in Kingfisher and that "Kingfisher was launched on the basis of a viable business plan vetted by SBI Capital Markets and renowned international aviation experts but despite every effort it was an unfortunate commercial failure caused by macro-economic factors and then government policies."

He also hinted that he was being targeted: "None of these large borrowers, whose debts are significantly more than the Kingfisher debt, have been declared as wilful detractors but UB (Holdings) and I have been declared so on technical grounds."

It is true that Mallya is not the only example of a corporate chieftain reneging on repayment of bank loans — in fact, industrial groups and companies like Essar, GVK and GMR are far more indebted to public sector banks than him. But, at the same time, none of the chieftains of these companies so uninhibitedly lives the opulent life. Mallya’s open display of his grand life has been the reason why he has attracted so much negative attention.

Mallya may protest his innocence, but going by the sequence of events it appeared that the fear of being nailed on money laundering charges and consequent arrest made him quickly run away from India. The unfolding of subsequent events suggests that he has no intention to return. After landing in London, he seemes to have headed directly to the massive Hertfordshire mansion that he had bought from racing driver Lewis Hamilton’s father.

Anthony Hamilton had sold the house near Welwyn Garden City to Mallya in July 2015 for £11.5 million. The mansion — named Ladywalk — sits on an estate of 30 acres on Queen Hoo Road in the village of Tiwen. It is heavily barricaded and allows Mallya the kind of privacy not possible in his London home.

That home is located on Baker Street in central London, just two houses away from Madame Tussauds museum. (221b Baker Street is the address of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and a museum now stands there.)

Just as Mallya had anticipated, a horde of television crews headed to Hertfordshire as soon as news of his having left for London broke in India. He remained incommunicado but the prying newshounds were able to figure out that he had had many visitors on the previous days, that he frequented a local pub often and was locally well recognised.

Predictably, Mallya’s disappearance raised temperatures in India, including in Parliament. Finance minister Arun Jaitley maintained that there was no arrest order against Mallya and that the CBI had moved the courts for cancellation of his passport after he had left. But the Opposition Congress was strident. Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, alleged that Mallya had been allowed to escape by the government. "The government is a party to this conspiracy and the Supreme Court should take note of this," he thundered.

Parliamentary affairs minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy said Mallya "is no saint for us", and not "a single penny was given to him by the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government", alluding to the fact that Mallya was a beneficiary of the largesse given by banks during the time of the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

The parliamentary duels apart, both the man on the street and business analysts believe that Mallya, with his wide-ranging contacts across political parties and the bureaucracy, had managed to bamboozle the system and make good his escape.

As columnist Kenneth Rapora wrote in the international business magazine Forbes,"Mallya’s escape hatch is making mockery of Indian justice and the ruling BJP. Finance minister Arun Jaitley defended Mallya’s departure saying that the banks had not initiated the legal process for leaving the country by the time he boarded the flight out of India. How convenient. The ex-Forbes billionaire may be bad at running an airline but has hunch for timing legal matters perfectly."

The first arrest warrant against Mallya was made more than a month and a half after he disappeared. On April 18, 2016, a special court issued a non-bailable warrant against him in response to a petition fi led by the ED, which accused him of siphoning off Rs 430 crore from an IDBI Bank loan to Kingfi sher Airlines to purchase properties. 

The ED had sought the warrant after Mallya skipped three summons issued to him to appear before the agency — on 18 March, 2 April and 9 April. Mallya had written to the agency that he would not be available before May because he was negotiating the repayment of his loans to commercial banks through the intervention of the Supreme Court.

"This was a very specious agreement because return of loan cannot be linked with probe for breaking the law. Even if he returned the loan, the liability for transgressing the law is not obviated," Supreme Court advocate Diljeet Singh Ahluwalia says. Vijay Mallya’s name has since figured in the Panama papers that were released by the International Consortium of Investigating Journalists.

The Times of India reported in its April 9, 2016 edition that Venture Net Holdings Ltd, registered in the British Virgin Islands and operating since February 15 2016, was linked directly to Vijay Mallya (and not to one of his companies). Venture Net has an offshore link with Particullus Trust, which is a one-stop solution for setting up offshore accounts and is registered in Cook Islands in the South Pacifi c. Incidentally, the Supreme Court had also directed Mallya to appear before it on 30 March 2016 with his passport. Predictably, Mallya did not show up.

The Supreme Court came into the picture when a consortium of banks led by the SBI approached it after realising that Mallya had been able to circumvent the DRT. The court subsequently asked Mallya to give it a list of properties that he owned "in a sealed cover". After much dilly-dallying and arguing that this would compromise his and his family’s privacy, he did provide a list, but one that was incomplete.

In order to pressure him to appear before them, the ED requested the foreign ministry to revoke his passport in the fond hope that such a move would force the liquor baron to scurry back home.

As a first step, the foreign ministry suspended his passport on April 15, asking him to explain why it should not be revoked. Later, the passport was cancelled. But this did not serve the objective of getting Mallya home from London because under the Immigration Act 1971, "the UK does not require an individual to hold a valid passport in order to remain in the country". Her Majesty’s government officially told the Indian government: "We can’t deport Vijay Mallya over an invalid passport. Consider requesting mutual legal assistance or extradition."

Mallya’s extradition is theoretically possible using the extradition treaty signed by the two countries in 1993 and a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) signed in 1992. However, in practice, extradition is not an easy process because it requires approval from courts in the UK after their hearing of charges and the defence. Merely because the law-enforcing agencies want Mallya back in India does not mean that courts in the UK will be sympathetic to the demand.

"If Mallya hires good lawyers, as he is bound to, the process will become complicated and more delayed," Supreme Court lawyer Diljeet Singh says. Only one Indian, Samir Patel, wanted for the post-Godhra violence, has been extradited by the UK since the treaty was signed. Hopes for Mallya’s extradition were raised after British Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to India in November 2016.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi presented to her a list of 60 people wanted in India and currently ensconced in Great Britain. The list included Vijay Mallya. May promised all help, and the Indian government has now invoked the MLAT. A visit by Jaitley to London has also raised hopes. But top officials in the Government of India are sceptical about Mallya’s extradition from the UK so easily.

Mallya was arrested by the Scotland Yard on April 18, 2017 after the Indian government sent a request for extradition. But, as per the norm, he was granted a provisional bail within hours of the arrest on a bail bond of £650,000 and the condition that he would remain at the address provided by him. Moreover, he has to be in touch with the authorities and his mobile phone has to be accessible all the time.

But he remained cocky and tweeted: "Surrender of passport, arrest, bail, all part of normal extradition proceedings." There is every indication that he will argue before the courts in the UK that he is being singled out for victimisation. This is clear from his tweets. Arraigned by the ethics committee of the Rajya Sabha — the custodian of moral and ethical conduct of its members — Mallya sent out a series of messages.

"In all humility and not in defiance as they report, I would like the Indian media to check and verify facts before calling me a defaulter," he tweeted in April 2016. Another tweet said: "7686 defaulters owe PSU banks Rs 66,190 crores. It is easy to blame only Mallya." In yet another he declared: "The allegations against me are blatantly false. I am shocked that the Finance Ministry has provided factually wrong information to the Parliamentary Committee."

But the Rajya Sabha ethics committee, headed by the veteran Karan Singh, remained unconvinced by his defence. On April 25 2016 it decided to recommend termination of his Rajya Sabha membership. Having got wind of this a little earlier, he post-haste faxed a resignation letter to Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari. But it was rejected because the letter did not follow prescribed procedures and did not carry Mallya’s original signature.

Considering that his membership was coming to an end on 30 June 2016, its termination in early May made little difference to his Rajya Sabha tenure. But to be officially kicked out of the Rajya Sabha was for Mallya a slap in the face.

That he had decided not to return to India was made clear by his lawyer’s argument in the Supreme Court as early as 26 April 2016. His lawyer said: "He has no intention of coming to India soon because he is sure to be clapped in prison given the recent actions against him. If he is arrested the moment he comes in and taken to Tihar jail, it serves no purpose."

The lawyer was arguing in the context of the repayment of the bank loans taken by Mallya. He seemed to be apprehensive that he would meet the same fate as Subrata Roy of Sahara. Roy, who partnered Mallya in the Formula One team for some time, had been sent to New Delhi’s Tihar jail in February 2014 on the orders of the Supreme Court. The court had given him interim bail, which would be operative only if he paid up Rs 10,000 crore to the capital market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). Roy would have had to sell some of his assets to generate that money but failed to do so.

Almost five months after his escape, Mallya, through his lawyer, sang a different tune. Failing to appear before a Delhi lower court for non-appearance in a Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) case, he sent an email that was presented to the court. He said he was unable to come down because his passport had been revoked and that he was trying hard to get the passport cancellation revoked. The case relates to the alleged payment of $200,000 to a British firm, Benetton Formula, to advertise Mallya’s company’s liquor products at the Formula One World Championship in London.

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, however, asserted in court that Mallya was a fugitive from justice and was playing "hide and seek", and cooking up "cock and bull stories". He alleged that Mallya was "deliberately concealing something from the banks", and also seemed to be of the view that he had "no intention to come back".

Mallya, on his part, has said in a Financial Times interview on April 29 2016 — his first after his flight from India — that by cancelling his passport and arresting him, the Indian government cannot expect to get any money.

As the law took its slow course, Mallya appeared fully devoted to enjoying himself in the UK. In late May 2016, his son Siddharth posted a video that showed the father-and-son duo watching the Indian Premier League (IPL) final in London on TV. In the video Mallya is seen rooting for Royal Challengers Bangalore, a team he had established. Siddharth also mentions Force India’s third place in the Monaco Grand Prix finals. Mallya continues to hold equity in Force India.

Mid-June 2016 saw Mallya at the elite Ascot races, where only thoroughbred horses compete. On June 18, Mallya was spotted at the book release function of Mantras of Success: India’s Greatest CEOs Tell You How to Win, co-authored by Suhel Seth, who was Mallya’s junior at school.

The event at the South Asia Centre of the London School of Economics also had Indian High Commissioner Navtej Sarna in attendance. Sarna, who was a co-panellist at the event, walked out on spotting Mallya among the gathering. Later, the organisers of the function said that Mallya had not been invited but had come because admission was open to all.

Mallya expressed deep offence, saying he was not a gate-crasher and could not be one, and was at the function because the author was his friend. While enjoying the good life in London, Mallya is also making his case by continually broadcasting his innocence.

In an interview to Auto Sport, carried in its July 2016 edition, Mallya insisted that he was being subjected to a witch-hunt, noting that he could not go to India because his passport had been cancelled. He said that if Indian authorities wanted to interview him, they could come to London, talk to him on radio link or send him an emailed questionnaire. "I will reply. I have nothing to hide," he stressed. "I am not physically present in India and they issue an arrest warrant and cancel my passport. What confidence does that give me on their real intent?"

In mid-June 2016, Mallya was declared a "proclaimed offender" by a special court in Mumbai, empowering the ED to seize his properties. This was a squeeze of sorts for Mallya but was not enough to smoke him out of Great Britain. In February 2017, India invoked the MLAT and asked Great Britain to extradite Mallya on the basis of a nonbailable warrant for arrest issued against him for using bank loans given to Kingfisher Airlines to buy properties.

India’s request to Interpol for an international red corner notice has also not yet been processed; apparently, Interpol wants more information to be sure that such a notice can be granted. For the record, Interpol is yet to accede to India’s request to issue a red corner notice for Lalit Modi, the former IPL commissioner, in spite of the request having been made many years ago.

It is not impossible that Mallya may have acquired a passport from a third country or is trying to acquire one. This would give him protection from Indian authorities, but an Interpol red corner notice — if one is issued — will jeopardise his movements. Many think that Mallya will try for British citizenship. He has properties in the UK and has been staying there regularly for long periods. In fact, his NRI status has helped him stay there.

Those in the know of things say that the UK is the perfect haven for somebody like Vijay Mallya. He has multiple homes there and has a chance to restart his liquor business there too if he wants to. One of the terms of his disengagement with United Spirits was a non-compete agreement he had to sign with the company, pledging that he will not enter into a competing business anywhere in the world except the UK.

Moreover, the UK gives refuge to all sorts of individuals, and experts say that if Mallya can convince the authorities there that his life and liberty are in danger in India, he can well obtain asylum there on the grounds of human rights. Lawyers specialising in immigration matters say that the UK is a safer haven than even the US for people like Mallya.

He can even have a robust family life there. He had once remarked that having turned 60, he would now like to spend more time with his children and less on business. All his children — a son and three daughters — live abroad. His only son, Siddharth, who has even quit his board seat at UB Holdings, wants to be an actor and train overseas for it.

In his home country, the court cases against Mallya continue to pile up. After he left for London, he was convicted by a Hyderabad court in a cheque-bouncing case filed by GMR Hyderabad airport. The cheques had been issued as payment for services availed at the airport by Kingfisher Airlines. However, a warrant issued by the court cannot be served to him as his address is unknown.

On August 6, 2016, a Delhi court too issued non-bailable warrants against him in a similar complaint fi led by the Delhi airport authorities.

Many are sceptical that Mallya can ever be brought back to India, much less to justice. Although the Indian government may have initiated extradition proceedings, it is not going to be smooth sailing because the British justice system does not allow for easy extraditions. "The laws are tough, and the only Indian sent back did not oppose the extradition proceedings. Moreover, with Indian agencies like the ED having already seized Mallya’s assets, his lawyers will argue that the value of the assets is more than what he owes the banks. So, is somebody making him the poster boy of default? Is this a case of political vendetta?" says Supreme Court criminal lawyer Diljeet Singh Ahluwalia.

Mallya could also use his powerful public relations machinery to change the discourse about him. Media reports are currently focused on his great escape and the fact that he diverted his company wealth into personal investments abroad, but an effort could be made to project the picture that Mallya actually wants to pay up his debts and that nobody is interested in working out a deal with him.

The banks are demanding Rs 9,000 crore from him. Mallya is disputing this figure, saying he took loans of no more than Rs 6,000 crore. The interest payment on that and the interest on the interest that has not been paid have added up to make it Rs 9,000 crore. Mallya could argue that due to commercial failures, he made huge losses and cannot pay the entire amount and that banks should take the principal and settle the matter. He can say that the banks and the government are not interested in this solution but want to punish him instead.

If this sob story goes around, public opinion about him can change, though he may still be hard pressed to explain his exorbitant lifestyle. Many analysts, however, feel that such a change of image is not possible for Mallya because "he is ever ready to shoot off his mouth".

The government of India is very keen to get Mallya back and prosecute him. This is because of Prime Minister Modi’s resolve to punish all black money generators and economic offenders. But many tracking the Mallya affair feel that the government should have shown the resolve from the very beginning and ensured that he did not leave the country. "The resolve is coming midway through the case," says the chairman of a private bank.

The government now proposes a new law to confiscate properties of fugitive economic offenders who abscond from India to defy the legal process

Most Indians believe nothing very adverse will happen to Mallya because nothing ever happens to corporate fraudsters in the country. A good example is the case of the information technology giant Satyam that went bust after its promoter Ramalinga Raju confessed to having cooked the books at his company. Raju was arrested and put on trial. In the end he was handed a sentence of seven years’ imprisonment. But within a week of incarceration he got bail and is now living in his home! He is now said to be running a new business through his son and daughter-in-law.

There could be an encore of sorts in the case of Vijay Mallya! Like Raju who lost Satyam, Mallya has lost United Spirits and could well lose United Breweries where he is still the chairman, but whose majority shareholding has passed on to Heineken, which is the co-promoter.

Mallya will have his liberty although he cannot venture into India. He will become a truly non-resident Indian who does not reside in India. What the staffers of Kingfisher Airlines wrote to him in an open letter in March 2016 will then ring true: "People like you start a company with our money, exploit the system and wind up operations without an iota of shame."

Also read: Why Vijay Mallya has landed at the bottom of the barrel

Writer

Kingshuk Nag Kingshuk Nag @nagkingshuk

The author has been a journalist with The Times of India for the last 22 years. This is his fifth book.

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