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India’s most famous defaulter is fishing for sympathy

Reuters / Matthew Childs
Playing it by the ear?
By Madhura Karnik
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The king of default-and-run in India is playing the victim card.

A year after he left the country for the UK while bankers asked him to pay back the vast loans taken out by his embattled Kingfisher Airlines, billionaire businessman Vijay Mallya is once again alleging a witch-hunt against him.

Kingfisher Airlines owes Rs9,000 crore to banks in the country.

“I am now a poster boy of loan defaulters in India…Why is my case unique when the banks have over Rs7 lakh crore worth of non-performing asserts,” Mallya asked the supreme court of India via a lawyer on March 09. The statement was made during the hearing for a plea by a consortium led by the State Bank of India, to recover $40 million (Rs267 crore) out of the $75 million Mallya received from spirits major Diageo as part of a settlement deal. However, he has said in an affidavit that the money he got from Diageo was transferred to his three children via trusts over which he has no individual control.

On March 10, Mallya stepped up his protest, this time taking to Twitter to emphasise the alleged unfairness in targeting him and his company.

“The allegations against me by the attorney general before the honourable supreme court only prove the attitude of the government against me,” he said in one tweet. While he continues to live in the UK and hasn’t showed up for any court proceedings, Mallya said he had obeyed all the court’s decisions.

Mallya also suggested through his tweets that he was ready to negotiate and settle with the banks.

In March 2016, Mallya had offered to settle Rs4,000 crore of the loans with the banks, but the proposal was rejected. The consortium of banks demanded that Mallya return to the country for negotiations, and also declare all the assets he and his family own in order to determine the fair value for a settlement. But Mallya hasn’t done anything of the sort as yet.

Blame game

Absolving himself of any blame for his company’s failures seems to be a favourite strategy of Mallya’s. Since absconding to the UK last March, he has accused everyone from the banks and the media to even the government itself of spreading lies and plotting against him. Kingfisher Airlines shut down in 2012 after years of poor management and heavy borrowing but Mallya had blamed macro-economic factors and government policies for the failure.

Now, banks are starting their own recovery process, seizing his properties back home and auctioning them off. But it hasn’t been easy to make up for the loss. The Kingfisher Villa in Goa, for instance, was auctioned for the third time on March 06 but it failed to attract any bids.

Meanwhile, the Indian government has been striking back, too, with sharp words against Mallya’s decision to reside in the UK.

India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley quipped that the British government’s policies were “liberal enough to permit defaulters to stay here” during a visit to the UK last month.

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