Dubai: The body of VG Siddhartha, the founder of Coffee Day Enterprises, the Indian rival of Starbucks Corp., has been missing since Monday evening after he went on a walk, Indian media reported quoting police.
Siddhartha, who is also the son-in-law of former Karnataka Chief Minister S M Krishna, was last seen on a bridge over the Netravati river in the coastal town, according to reports.
The police have launched a massive search operation near the bridge. Divers are scanning the muddy river.
According to Indian media, Siddhartha apparently committed suicide. Until Tuesday, there was no official confirmation or conclusive evidence of this angle.
Fisherman saw man jumping into the river
A fisherman claimed to have seen a man, likely to be Siddhartha, jumping into the Netravathi river from the bridge in Karnataka's Mangaluru on Monday evening, police said late Tuesday, reported IANS.
"We have recorded the statement of fisherman Symond D'Souza that he saw a man jumping off the bridge into the river when he was fishing nearby," Mangaluru Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Kodandaram told IANS over phone.
Siddhartha, 60, went missing since Monday evening from the road bridge between Ullal and Mangaluru over the river around 7 p.m. as his car driver Basavaraj Patil told the police.
"When I heard a thud-like sound in the river, I turned and saw the same man in the water struggling to float but drowned by the time I could reach the spot. As the current was strong, I could not find him in the fast-moving water, as the river is almost full and deep," D'Souza told the police.
The police said the man D'Souza saw jumping off the bridge's pillar number 8 and drowning was likely to be Siddhartha, as his driver informed the nearby Kanakanady police station that his employer was missing from the same spot since that time.
In a complaint to the police, Patil said that Siddhartha told him to stop by the side soon as they drove on to the bridge and asked him to wait in the car at the end of the bridge as he wanted to walk up and had to make calls.
"When the rain started, I took a u-turn and drove back to the spot where I left Sir and searched around for him. As it was dark, windy and raining, I could not find him anywhere on the bridge or in the river," Patil said in the complaint.
Siddhartha left Bengaluru on Monday afternoon to Sakleshpur near Hassan where he has a house and one of his coffee estates. As it was on way to Mangaluru, he told Patil to drive towards Mangaluru after a short break at Sakleshpur to fresh-up.
Letter to to employees. Is it a suicide note?
Siddhartha reportedly wrote a letter to the management and employees of the coffee chain, expressing unhappiness over not creating "the right profitable business". "...I have failed to create the right profitable business model despite my best efforts... Every financial transaction is my responsibility... The law should hold me and only me accountable," according to Indian media reports.
According to reports, the businessman's long-time driver Basavaraj Patil said they were going to Sakleshpur from Bengaluru, a 220-km drive, when in the middle of the journey Siddhartha asked him to go to Mangaluru. Just outside of Mangaluru, as they were approaching a bridge, the businessman asked the driver to stop the car and he got down.
The driver said Siddhartha told him to drive towards the other end of the bridge and wait there. But the wait continued and there was no news from Siddhartha, according to reports.
Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa visited the Bengaluru home of BJP leader SM Krishna Tuesday morning. Top leaders DK Shivakumar and B L Shankar from Krishna's former party, the Congress, also visited him. A large number of leaders and well-wishers have also gathered at his home.
Coffee Day Enterprises, in which Siddhartha holds 32.75% stake as per data compiled by Bloomberg, is a holding company for several businesses, the most prominent of which is Cafe Coffee Day, with more than 1,500 cafes across the country. Siddhartha was seeking a valuation of as much as $1.45 billion from Coca-Cola Co. for a stake sale in the coffee chain he set up, The Economic Times reported last month.
Coffee Day, which went public in 2015, almost two decades after opening its first cafe in Bengaluru, is now present in more than 200 cities. The company, founded in 1993, opened the first international cafe in Vienna in 2005, according to its website.
The 58-year old first generation coffee entrepreneur hailed from a coffee growing family in Chikmagalur in Karnataka.
A post-graduate in Economics, the family is the largest individual coffee planter, owning about 15,000 acres of coffee estates. He opened his first cooffee outlet in August 1996 in Bengaluru’s most-visited shopping street, Brigade Road. The chain has grown to 1750 stores across India along with 60,000 vending machines, besides presence in Vienna, the Czech Republic, Malaysia and Nepal.
He married the daughter of former Karnataka Chief Minister SM Krishna’s daughter, and the couple have two children.