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Mallya says in forced exile, no plans to return to India

Vijay Mallya

London : Embattled tycoon Vijay Mallya has said he is in a “forced exile” and disclosed no immediate plans to return to India where things are flying at him “fast and furious”.

Mallya, whose passport was revoked this month, said he wants a “reasonable” settlement with creditor banks for his defunct airline, but they “are not getting any money” by taking his passport or arresting him.

“I definitely would like to return to India. Right now, things are flying at me fast and furious. My passport has been revoked. I don’t know what the government is going to do next,” he told the Financial Times.

Mallya, 60, said he remains an Indian patriot, who is “proud to fly the Indian flag”, but as the outcry around him continues, he is more than happy to stay safe in the UK and has no plans to leave that country.

“It is important to understand the environment in India today. The electronic media is playing a huge role not just in moulding public opinion, but in inflaming the government to a very large extent,” he said in what FT termed as a four-hour interview in Mayfair, Central London.

The Indian government yesterday wrote to Britain seeking deportation of the liquor baron against whom a non-bailable warrant has been issued in a money-laundering investigation.

Mallya, who flew first class from Delhi to London on March 2 as a group of state-owned banks knocked on the door of the Supreme Court to recover about Rs 9,000 crore owed by his collapsed Kingfisher Airlines Ltd, said he was “absolutely not guilty of any of these preposterous charges of diverting funds from Kingfisher, buying properties or stuff like that”.

The government, he said, can appoint the world’s best forensic auditor to audit the accounts of Kingfisher and audit how banks loans were utilised. “I am sure they are not going to find anything, because that’s the truth.”

He said he has always maintained that “notwithstanding anything else”, he was interested in settlement with Kingfisher bankers.

Asked who was behind his woes, he said, “I wish I knew.” Pressed if the people after him were bureaucrats or Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said, “All I can say is the manner in which my passport was first suspended and then revoked was done in an extraordinary haste.”

“First, notice of suspension came on a public holiday last week… I replied. And my reply was not considered and the passport was revoked on Saturday,” he said.

Asked if he had made mistakes, Mallya said, “I must have made many mistakes.”

On being asked if he misjudged public mood as it turned against flamboyant multi-millionaires in business in India, he said he cannot understand why he was labelled as a wilful defaulter.

“We have invested over 610 million pound into Kingfisher Airlines, we tried everything conceivably possible to save the airlines. A combination of macroeconomic factors and then government policies unfortunately could not save Kingfisher. (Though) I have lived my life in my normal life… people think I am flamboyant, actually I am quite simple,” he explained.

Stating that he has worked hard all his life, he said he wanted “to try and settle with the banks and live my life in peace. That’s my focus right now”.

Mallya said he has acted as a brand ambassador for his brands in the ‘media dark environments’ while referring to prohibition on advertising for alcohol.

Trying to explain that the King of Good Times label was actually a slogan for the Kingfisher beer brand, he expressed dismay as to what could have gone wrong.

He made it clear that he does not intend to sell his current businesses in India. “These businesses are doing very well. If I had a passport, I could. But right now, I am in a forced exile,” he said. “(I am) willing to clear my name.”

Mallya added that he has expressed willingness to settle with banks and a “very sincere” settlement offer was proposed to the Supreme Court of India.

The apex court has directed the Debt Recovery Tribunal to dispose of the main matter in two months.

“Notwithstanding that legal process, my offer for settlement stands,” he said, adding that the filings before DRT by the consortium of bankers is of principal amount of a little over 500 million pound and the rest is towards unapplied interests.

Asked about Rs 9,000 crore outstanding claimed by banks, he said, “I don’t know whether it’s the banks or the media or the combination of the two… I have never been able to understand where this Rs 9,000 crore or 900 million pound figure came from. But as I said, if there is a reason and rationale all around, the banks can be settled along with other creditors.”

“…we wish to settle at a reasonable number that we can afford and banks can justify on the basis of settlements done before… would like to repeat that I will reach out if they are interested in making a settlement,” Mallya clarified.

Asked if he would consider raising his offer to settle outstanding loans, he said, “The banks also need to consider that there are other creditors which also need to be paid off and satisfied. I can’t be seen giving preference to the banks just because of this extraordinary pressure on me by government agencies.”

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