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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 January 2019

India's King of Good Times loses extradition battle

Decision is blow to Vijay Mallya but tycoon is likely to appeal against ruling

Indian businessman Vijay Mallya has lost the first round in what is expected to be a long-running extradition fight. Getty  
Indian businessman Vijay Mallya has lost the first round in what is expected to be a long-running extradition fight. Getty  

One of India’s most flamboyant businessmen faces extradition from Britain after losing a long-running legal battle on Monday against claims of money laundering and fraud following the collapse of his brewing and airline empire.

Vijay Mallya, 62, flew to the UK in 2016 leaving behind debts of more than $1 billion and pursued by investigators and police who accuse the tycoon of misusing loans for his ailing Kingfisher airline.

The businessman was arrested last year after a consortium of 17 banks accused him of failing to pay back loans of $1.3 billion for the now-defunct airline - despite having the money.

Mr Mallya had denied fleeing India and offered to repay public money while on bail for 20 months awaiting the ruling in the extradition case.

His defeat in a court on Monday marks only the conclusion of the first stage of a legal battle that could continue for months with an appeal to a higher court.

Speaking to reporters outside court in central London, Mr Mallya described the ruling as “unfortunate” but declined to comment on his next steps.

The criminal case against Mr Mallya was launched in Indian after investigators trawled the financial affairs of the airline after it was grounded in 2012.

Despite being in deep trouble, bank loans for the airline were pumped into two “vanity projects” including a Formula One team owned by the businessman and a corporate jet, according to a 74-page ruling.

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Indian bank executives continued to lend money to the airline despite it being in deep financial trouble within three years of its launch in 2005.

Chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot rejected Mr Mallya’s claims that the extradition was a political campaign aimed at quelling public anger at the accumulation of bad debts by Indian state-owned banks.

“I do not accept the courts in India are there to do what the politicians tell them what to do,” she said.

Ms Arbuthnot said that the financial position of the airline had been repeatedly misrepresented and rejected claims that he faced an unfair trial in India because of media scrutiny of his case.

She added that Indian banking executives had a case to answer for fraud rather than being “in thrall” to the “glamorous, flashy, famous, bejewelled, bodyguarded, ostensibly billionaire playboy”.

Ms Arbuthnot said she would recommend to the UK's interior minister to sign off on the extradition but told the businessman at a court hearing in London that there “may be a long process ahead of us” before it is completed.

Mr Mallya indicated earlier that he was considering other legal avenues to prevent his enforced return to stand trial in India. He claims the collapse of his airline was an unfortunate corporate failure affected caused by a surge in fuel costs and mechanical mishaps.

“Whatever the decision we well review it and take the appropriate steps. We will do whatever we need to do,” he told the National. “We first need to read the judgement in total before making any decision.”

Mr Mallya, the self-styled King of Good Times, inherited a family brewing empire in the 1990s and embarked on a series of acquisitions. He set up the Kingfisher airline in 2005 with an unashamed pitch to the country’s middle-classes.

He also owned a cricket team in the Indian Premier League as well as the Force India racing team. His business empire unravelled with the grounding of his airline.

He sold his stake in a drinks company and handed over $40 million in trust for his three children in contravention of an Indian court ruling, the court found.

The ruling by the British court is a crucial win for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which has been battling to contain the political damage after some 31 Indians linked to fraud cases fled abroad to avoid prosecution.

Updated: December 11, 2018 03:41 PM

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