MUMBAI (Reuters) - India on Friday said it had suspended the diplomatic passport of embattled tycoon and lawmaker Vijay Mallya, who left the country last month amid pressure from lenders to repay about $1.4 billion in debt owed by his defunct Kingfisher Airlines.
Mallya’s case takes center stage at a time when India’s government and central bank have begun to crack down on bank loan defaulters, in a drive to clean up ailing state-run banks.
Just days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said no one “looting” money from banks would be spared, India’s foreign ministry gave Mallya a week to answer why his passport should not be impounded or revoked.
“If he fails to respond within the stipulated time, it will be assumed that he has no response to offer and the foreign ministry will go ahead with the revocation,” ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said in a statement on Twitter.
The suspension is effective for four weeks, Swarup said, adding that the ministry acted on a request from the Enforcement Directorate, a government agency investigating financial crime.
It was not immediately clear what the suspension means for Mallya, whose lawyer, C.S. Vaidyanathan, said he was not aware of the government notice and could not comment.
A spokesman for Mallya’s UB Group did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.
Mallya, a member of the upper house of India’s parliament who co-owns Britain-based motor racing team Force India, has not revealed his whereabouts since his departure on March 2, but has said he was not an absconder.
The creditor banks this month rejected an offer of partial repayment by Mallya, who had given a personal guarantee for the Kingfisher loan, and have demanded that the former billionaire attend a hearing in India’s Supreme Court.
Once known as the “King of Good Times” for his extravagant lifestyle, Mallya has said he would comply with the law. Media reports traced him to the Hertfordshire village of Tewin, north of London, where he owns a house.
Reporting by Devidutta Tripathy, Rajesh Kumar Singh, Suchitra Mohanty and Alan Baldwin; Editing by Clarence Fernandez