Vijay Mallya, India’s ‘King of Good Times,’ Should be Extradited, British Court Rules

Posted December 10, 2018 10:26 a.m. EST

LONDON — Vijay Mallya built a reputation as India’s “King of Good Times.” He invested in alcohol brands, air travel and auto racing. His parties featured an array of celebrities, businesspeople and entertainers.

But the freewheeling, flamboyant style he cultivated may be coming back to haunt him. A British court ruled Monday that Mallya, 62, should be extradited to his native India, which he fled in 2016 in the face of a mountain of unpaid bills and fraud accusations.

The government of India has accused Mallya of conspiracy to defraud, making false representations to make a gain for himself and money laundering.

Mallya’s lawyers have argued that there was insufficient evidence to pursue a case against him and that the prosecution was politically motivated. They also said he was at risk of being subjected to a flagrantly unfair trial because of a combination of political pressure and media reporting.

Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot, wrote in the ruling that she had found a prima facie case on the three potential charges.

“I find no evidence to support the contention that the request for VJM’s extradition is in fact being made for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing him on account of his political opinions,” she noted.

In an emailed statement, Anand Doobay, Mallya’s lawyer, said his client would be “carefully considering the court’s judgment and, therefore, it would not be appropriate to make any further comment at this time.”

Mallya, who turned a family brewing business into a huge conglomerate, has been compared to British entrepreneur Richard Branson. Flight attendants on Kingfisher Airlines, which Mallya established in 2003, wore bright red uniforms like those worn by crew members on Branson’s Virgin Atlantic.

Mallya’s company, United Breweries, the maker of Kingfisher beer, expanded into chemicals and fertilizer, later adding a stake in the Force India Formula 1 racing team.

He made a splash with his personal displays of wealth, inviting top Indian businessmen, Bollywood stars and singers like Lionel Richie and Enrique Iglesias to his birthday parties.

He was willing to make similarly bold moves in the corporate world, too, ordering 50 Airbus planes in 2007 for $7 billion, part of a plan to expand Kingfisher Airlines internationally and to install a luxurious business class.

“I work hard,” he is well known for having said, “and I play hard, too.”

Mallya’s gaudy behavior came to symbolize the excesses of business in India after the country’s wave of deregulation in the early 1990s. But as Kingfisher Airlines struggled to compete in the domestic market, he became a target of the authorities.

By 2012, facing high fuel prices and a global slowdown, the airline ceased operations. At the time, it owed more than $1 billion in loans, bills and back pay to employees. Mallya and United Breweries had backed some of the loans, so he was on the hook for repayments.

Banks tried to seize Mallya’s assets and Indian authorities raided his homes and offices in 2015. He fled to Britain the next year and a Mumbai court issued a warrant for his arrest.

India canceled his passport last year and requested his extradition. He was then arrested by the Metropolitan Police in London. He has been free on bail since then.

At the time, Mallya dismissed his arrest, calling it the “usual Indian media hype.” He had previously disputed accusations that he had fled India to avoid his debts, saying that he traveled to India regularly.

In June, Mallya posted a statement on Twitter saying that Kingfisher Airlines had failed because of circumstances beyond his control and that he had become a political pawn and was not being treated fairly.

“I am pained to see that I have become the poster boy of all bank defaults, accused of looting public money and fleeing the nation,” he wrote.

The case will now be sent to the home secretary, Sajid Javid, who will decide whether to order the extradition. Mallya may still appeal the decision by the court or the home secretary.