End of Good Times? Tribunal locks up Rs 515 crore of Mallya

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End of Good Times? Tribunal locks up Rs 515 crore of Mallya's money

Bad times are nigh for the King of Good Times. Vijay Mallya, the latest poster boy of India's unscrupulous corporate culture, has just been denied access to $75 million, or Rs 515 crore, by the Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT).

The tribunal is trying to recover over Rs 7,000 crore in unpaid loans from the chairman of the grounded Kingfisher Airlines.

Also read - SC terms PSU banks' bad debts 'a big fraud', demands details from RBI

The blocked money was part of Mallya's settlement with the British liquor giant Diageo. He was pushed out as chairman of the Diageo-owned United Spirits in April 2015 after an internal probe found he had diverted funds to his United Breweries Group companies, particularly Kingfisher.

Diageo had bought a controlling stake in United Spirits from UB Group in 2014.

The DRT moved against Mallya after a complaint from the State Bank of India, which heads a consortium of 17 lenders to Kingfisher Airlines.

The airline stopped flying in 2012, leaving its employees as well as creditors and suppliers in the lurch. As its chairman, Mallya owes over Rs 7,000 crore to various Indian banks.

That's only the beginning of Mallya's troubles. The Enforcement Directorate under the finance ministry has booked Mallya under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. It's reportedly investigating him for misappropriating loans to Kingfisher Airlines.

He is also under CBI investigation for "conniving" with senior officials of IDBI Bank to secure a Rs 900-crore loan to his airline despite its negative credit ratings and net worth - that's, in violation of banking norms. Mallya was questioned by the CBI about this in December 2015.

Crunch time

The Indian banking system is saddled with over Rs 10 lakh crore of bad loans, including restructured and strategic debt restructured loans, most of which are unlikely to be ever recovered. But most of the people who - or whose companies - owe this money are getting off without repercussion.

Mallya is symptomatic of this malaise. While his employees and creditors suffer, he enjoys a lavish lifestyle, which is completely out of sync with his bank balance.

Why is Mallya in the dock? He owes Rs 7,000 crore as chairman of the grounded Kingfisher Airlines

But after Indian banks reported a loss of Rs 12,000 crore in the December 2015 quarter, largely due to bad debts, public pressure has been growing to recover loans from willful defaulters like Mallya.

On cue, the SBI, which declared Mallya and his United Breweries Holdings Ltd willful defaulters in 2015, has sought his arrest and asked for his passport to be impounded.

Also read - CBI questions Vijay Mallya in Kingfisher Airlines loan default case

Hitting back

Perhaps fearing arrest, Mallya laid out his defence in an open on 6 February.

"Kingfisher was launched on the basis of a viable business plan vetted by SBI Capital Markets and renowned international aviation consultants, but despite every effort, it was an unfortunate commercial failure caused by macro-economic factors and then government policies," he wrote.

"The truth about Kingfisher Airlines and its financial stress due to external factors has been reported by the State Bank of India to the Reserve Bank of India in their letter dated 31st January 2012. A consortium of banks loaned funds to Kingfisher Airlines, a public company, but these loans were secured by blue chip securities."

Mallya also blamed the media for making him the face of the bad debt crisis "despite many other business houses owing much more to the Indian banks".

"In fact, banks have NPAs of Rs 11 lakh crore and have borrowers who owe much more than the amount allegedly owed by Kingfisher Airlines - a fact never alluded to or widely reported by the media as in my case," he complained in the letter.

In 2015, Mallya spend crores on his 60th birthday while his employees were without pay for months

"None of these large borrowers have been declared willful defaulters but, unfortunately, United Breweries Holdings and I have been declared willful defaulters by certain banks on technical grounds. I have legally challenged these declarations."

While Mallya is right about other businesspeople owing much more than him, there are few who have flaunted their wealth so brazenly while their employees went without salaries for months.

As recently as December 2015, when the investigations against him were well underway, he spend crores of rupees on his 60th birthday celebration, hiring Indian as well as international celebrities to perform to entertain the guests.

So much so that even the RBI governor Raghuram Rajan was prompted to ask loan defaulters to mind their lavish lifestyles.

Mallya clearly isn't doing a great job of defending himself.

Edited by Mehraj D. Lone

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Neeraj Thakur

Neeraj Thakur @neerajthakur2