UK arrests tycoon Vijay Mallya, wanted by India over defaulted loans

It comes two months after India formally applied for the UK to extradite the chairman of United Breweries back home so that he may stand trial there.

Vijay Mallya, pictured here at the Silverstone motor racing circuit near Towcester, central England on February 22, 2017, has been arrested by British police. Oli Scarff / AFP
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The flashy Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya, long wanted in his home country for defaulting on loans worth billions of rupees, was arrested on Tuesday in London, where he has been living for more than a year.

Mr Mallya, 61, later appeared in Westminster magistrates’ court, two months after India formally applied for the UK to extradite him back home so that he may stand trial there.

The court granted Mr Mallya bail on a £650,000 (Dh3 million) bond. On Twitter, he said he had not been arrested but was merely making a voluntary procedural appearance in court, and that it was in all likelihood the first step in an extradition hearing. Scotland Yard, however, termed Mr Mallya’s detention as an “arrest”.

The swaggering chairman of United Breweries, which manufactures the well-known Kingfisher beer, Mr Mallya also owns the Force India Formula One racing team. Another company he previously chaired, United Spirits, bought the Royal Challengers Bengaluru, a cricket team in the Indian Premier League.

Mr Mallya was forced out of the United Spirits chairman role last year by Diageo, the majority shareholder. He retained a small stake, however, and so was paid US$75m (Dh275.5m) to not interfere with the company’s affairs for five years.

His most disastrous venture, however, was Kingfisher Airlines, which began operations in 2005. After accumulating losses of about 70 billion rupees, and racking up heavy debts, the airline was grounded in 2012.

After Mr Mallya fled to London last March, India cancelled his passport. In January, he was charged in absentia with cheating and conspiracy by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for defaulting on Kingfisher Airlines’ loans from a number of private and state-run banks. The airline owes roughly 90 billion rupees (Dh5.1bn).

Mr Mallya refused on at least three occasions to travel to India to give evidence to investigators. Instead, he stayed in the UK – moving between his central London town house and a large house he wons in the the Hertfordshire countryside – and continued to live his flamboyant lifestyle very publicly.

Mr Mallya also owns a home in Sausalito, California, and a penthouse in Trump Plaza in New York City. As his personal fortune boomed on the back of stock market bull runs in India in the early 2000s, the tycoon at one point owned as many as 26 residences around the world.

Styling himself as India’s answer to Richard Branson, the British billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, Mr Mallya was known for his extravagant parties, his friendships with Bollywood stars, and his $100m luxury yacht. He adopted the Kingfisher Beer slogan – “The King of Good Times” – as his own personal motto.

Even the bad times were good times as far as Mr Mallya was concerned. In December 2015, he threw himself a birthday bash costing $2m at his villa in Goa, weeks after the State Bank of India declared him a “wilful defaulter”. Enrique Iglesias performed, and the celebrations lasted two days.

His Goa villa was recently sold for 730m rupees after a group of lenders, led by the State Bank of India, seized it and put it up for auction to recover some of Mr Mallya’s debts.

The process of extraditing Mr Mallya – which has been energetically pursued by prime minister Narendra Modi’s government – is likely to be a long one, even though India and the UK have signed an extradition treaty.

Britain has found reasons to not cooperate with extradition requests from India in the past – including in the case of Lalit Modi, another tycoon who set up the Indian Premier League and who, like Mr Mallya, is living in London, far beyond the reach of Indian corruption investigators.

If the British courts rule that Mr Mallya should be extradited, he can appeal in both lower and higher courts.