New Delhi/Mumbai – Indian Tycoon Vijay Mallya, who faces pressure from banks to repay more than $1 billion owed by his collapsed airline, has denied charges he was an absconder on Friday and refuted such claims that he had fled India as politicians traded accusations over how he was able to fly to Britain unhindered.
Mallya assured through a series of tweets that he posted on Friday that he did not leave India’s borders stating that “I did not flee from India and neither am I an absconder“.
Mallya’s departure on the 2nd of March has shocked and caused chaos in the parliament, along with a firestorm in domestic media that pore over the lifestyle one of India’s brashest entrepreneurs. All concentration however was narrowed and concentrated on how Mallya was actually allowed to depart the country even after creditors of his failed Kingfisher Airlines had appealed to the Supreme Court to ensure he stayed in the country.
“Through his aforementioned series of tweets, 60 years old Mallya assured that he’s still in the country, adding that not only does he respect domestic laws but will also comply with them.Mallya who is known as the self-styled “King of Good Times”, who built his business around Kingfisher beer and co-owns a Formula 1 racing team, clarified to his 5 million followers that he always travels to and from India, saying he was the target of “a raging fire” media witch hunt.
Mallya who is also a member of parliament’s upper house, noting that he was last seen in the chamber on March 1, didn’t reveal about his present location through his social media posts. Nevertheless, two people who are familiar with his travel arrangements said that Mallya flew first class to London on Jet Airways Flight 9W-122 the next day.
Indian TV reporters said they had traced Mallya to the Hertfordshire village of Tewin, north of London, where he is known to locals, noting that property records shows that the businessman’s luxury home, called “Ladywalk”, cost 11.5 million pounds ($16.4 million) when bought in July 2015.
No formal legal warrant was issued against him, even as creditors sought to step up efforts to recover the $1.4 billion owed by Kingfisher Airlines, which stopped flying in October 2012.
Noting that security officials stated that Mallya, a feature in India’s society press pages who sports a goatee, an ear stud and a ponytail, was the subject of a “lookout notice” – an official circular that triggers an alert if the target pursues to leave India but does not provide a legal basis to prevent departure.
A senior home ministry official stated they could do nothing, saying “What can we do? It was the banks’ responsibility to file a criminal case against him” the official also declined to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss the case publicly. “We had no legal basis to stop him.”
A week after Mallya left, India’s attorney general, representing more than a dozen creditors, told the Supreme Court only this Wednesday that the tycoon was no longer in the country; which has put New Delhi in an uncomfortable situation over Mallya’s departure.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was skewered by opposition politicians for presiding over a situation where Mallya was allowed to leave the country, mocking Modi’s election promise to bring back illicit “black money” stashed abroad.
The government has hit back, saying Mallya piled up his debts under the Congress administration ousted by Modi in the 2014 election.Critics say the high-profile case is symptomatic of fragile management at India’s public sector banks – Mallya’s lead creditor is State Bank of India. While a bill to renovate India’s bankruptcy laws is now before parliament, the old-fashioned legislation that is currently in force leads debt litigation to drag on for years.
Arun Jaitley, Finance Minister, told parliament on Thursday that the government had given instructions for banks to go “all out” in their efforts to recover the money owed by Kingfisher, pointing to cases of “wilful default bordering on fraud”.
Banks ramped up their campaign to retrieve funds after Mallya quit as chairman of spirits maker United Spirits, a unit of Diageo Plc, last month. As part of that settlement, Diageo will pay Mallya $75 million over five years.