Indian liquor baron and the erstwhile aviation magnate Vijay Mallya, who owes an estimated $1.3 billion to several banks in India in relation to his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines, has left the country, the Indian government informed the Supreme Court Wednesday. According to local media reports, a group of 17 banks — most of them state-run — that asked the top court to stop him from leaving, was told that the 60-year-old billionaire had departed on March 2.
“Agencies and the CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] have told me he left the country on the second of March,” India’s Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, who appeared in court for the consortium of banks, reportedly said.
He added that the state was not looking to take action against Mallya, who is believed to be in London, but wanted him to settle his debts.
“First option is to ask him to appear and, if he does not, then we can initiate proceedings for revocation of his passport. Once his passport is revoked, then technically a person does not have any right to reside anywhere else ... then the country where the person is, forces him to go back to the country from where he has come,” Rohatgi told a local media outlet.
Mallya — a flamboyant businessman who is also a nominated member of parliament — was once known as the “King of Good Times,” mainly because of his lavish lifestyle. His fortunes began to crumble in 2012, when Kingfisher Airlines — named after his globally popular beer brand — went bust, leaving behind thousands of unemployed workers millions of dollars in unpaid bills.
Since then, the banks that lent money to the heavily indebted businessman have unsuccessfully sought his arrest and confiscation of his passport. A consortium of Indian lenders and creditors have also argued that the severance pay Mallya received after stepping down as chairman of United Spirits — the Indian arm of the British beverage giant Diageo — should have gone to them first to cover loans used to finance the carrier.
Diageo had reportedly been trying to oust him as chairman after an internal inquiry found financial irregularities.
Mallya announced last month that he was moving to the U.K. to “spend more time in England closer to my children." On Sunday, he released a statement denying that he is in hiding, accusing the Indian media of waging a “near-hysterical campaign” against him.
“I have been most pained as being painted as an absconder — I have neither the intention nor any reason to abscond. I have been a non-resident for almost 28 years,” Mallya reportedly said. “I have been summoned before various investigative agencies and have duly attended and cooperated with each of them, and I will continue to do so.”