Tycoon Mallya denies 'fleeing' India, Delhi left red-faced over exit

Fri Mar 11, 2016 6:23am EST
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By Douglas Busvine and Devidutta Tripathy

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) - Tycoon Vijay Mallya, under pressure from banks to repay more than $1 billion owed by his collapsed airline, on Friday refuted claims he had fled India as politicians traded recriminations over how he was able to fly to Britain unhindered.

The March 2 departure of Mallya has sparked uproar in parliament and a firestorm in domestic media that pore over the lifestyle one of India's brashest entrepreneurs. Questions center on how Mallya was allowed to leave even after creditors of his failed Kingfisher Airlines had appealed to the Supreme Court to ensure he stayed in the country.

"I did not flee from India and neither am I an absconder," 60-year-old Mallya said in a series of posts on Twitter. Mallya said in his posts that he would comply with domestic laws.

India's financial crime-fighting agency, the Enforcement Directorate, has summoned Mallya for questioning on March 18, a senior agency official said later on Friday. A spokesman for Mallya's holding company, UB Group, declined to comment on the summons.

The self-styled "King of Good Times", who built his business around Kingfisher beer and co-owns a Formula 1 racing team, explained to his 5 million Twitter followers that he travels to and from India frequently, saying he was the target of "a raging fire" media witch hunt. (bit.ly/227cxke)

Mallya, also a member of parliament's upper house who was last seen in the chamber on March 1, didn't disclose his current location in the social media posts. Two people familiar with his travel arrangements told Reuters Mallya flew first class to London on Jet Airways Flight 9W-122 the next day.

Indian TV reporters said they had traced Mallya to the Hertfordshire village of Tewin, north of London, where he is known to locals. The businessman's luxury home, called "Ladywalk", cost 11.5 million pounds ($16.4 million) when bought in July 2015, property records show.

Security officials told Reuters that Mallya, a fixture in India's society press pages who sports a goatee, an ear stud and a ponytail, was the subject of a "lookout notice" - an official circular that triggers an alert if the target seeks to leave India but does not provide a legal basis to prevent departure.   Continued...

Force India team owner Dr. Vijay Mallya during a press conference
 Action Images / Hoch Zwei