London: Indian business tycoon Vijay Mallya was arrested on Tuesday by British police on behalf of the Indian authorities, who want him extradited to face fraud charges.
The heavily indebted businessman is wanted in India over allegations he defaulted on loans made to his now defunct Kingfisher Airlines and an official request for his extradition was made to the UK in February.
On Tuesday he voluntarily attended a central London police station and was arrested, according to the Metropolitan Police. He later appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court and was granted bail after a short hearing.
Mallya denies any wrongdoing. “Usual Indian media hype. Extradition hearing in Court started today as expected,” he tweeted shortly after midday UK time (3pm UAE).
This was the first step in what is likely to be a long legal battle. No date has yet been announced for his next court appearance.
Kolkata-born entrepreneur Mallya styled himself as ‘The King of Good Times’, enjoying a flamboyant lifestyle while his business interests flourished. As well as being behind the successful Kingfisher beer brand, the 61-year-old has stakes in Formula One team Force India and Indian Premier League cricket franchise Royal Challengers Bangalore.
He launched Kingfisher Airlines in 2005 but it was grounded in 2012 and its flying permit lapsed the following year. It had made losses for five successive financial years and its fate was sealed when banks refused to lend the company any more money.
It is thought the airline borrowed more than a billion pounds and it is the whereabouts of this money that prompted a probe by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation. Mallya was charged with cheating and conspiracy to default on a Rs9 billion (Dh511 million) loan, which was given in 2009 to buy aircraft parts and which he is accused of transferring abroad.
He left for Britain in March last year and refused to return to face trial, but India cancelled his passport and began extradition proceedings.
In January, an Indian court ordered a consortium of lenders to start the process of recovering the loans.
In March last year, Mallya was blocked from receiving $75m (Dh275m) severance pay from British drinks giant Diageo. He was due to receive the money after being ousted as boss of the firm’s Indian arm United Spirits Limited, but a consortium of banks and creditors demanded the money should be used to settle some of his outstanding debt.
Mallya has repeatedly dismissed the charges against him and defended himself in messages from his personal Twitter account.
On January 28 he said that “not one rupee was misused”.
India and Britain have a mixed record on extradition, say legal experts. Some cases have collapsed when evidence against the defendant fell short of the standard of “dual criminality”, or actions that amount to a crime in both countries.
“The court usually focuses on whether there is sufficient criminality to extradite someone,” said Andrew Smith, a partner at London law firm Corker Binning. “India needs to show a prima facie evidential case against this man.” The criminal case against Mallya was only filed this year.
If his legal team argues persuasively that the charges were filed as an act of revenge, that might sway the court in his favour, legal experts say.
Mallya co-owns the Force India Formula One team. He has a base in London as well as a country home bought from the father of triple Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton.
He attended just one of 21 races last year, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, and watched the rest from a ‘control room’ in his country mansion.
India’s top brewer, United Breweries, part-owned by global giant Heineken, this year asked Mallya, its non-executive chairman, to step down from the board, following a regulatory order.
India’s capital markets regulator has also barred Mallya from participating in the securities market for having allegedly diverted funds from whiskey maker United Spirits.
Scotland Yard arrested Mallya, Indian television channel CNN News 18 said, adding that a team of Indian law enforcement officials would visit London to begin work on his extradition.
India’s foreign ministry and the federal police, the Central Bureau of Investigation, were not immediately available for comment.
— The writer is a freelance journalist based in the UK