The king of good times, and of bad debt, has flown the coop. On March 9, Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi informed the Supreme Court that industrialist Vijay Mallya had left the country. He made his exit on March 2, the day a consortium of public sector banks, whom he owed Rs 9,000 crore, moved the Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT) against him. The banks also petitioned the Supreme Court to restrain the former UB Group chairman from leaving the country.
It is unlikely that they will ever be able to recover the debt. “It may be a lengthy process and the banks will not be able to recover the full amount,” said a banking expert.
A former senior member of the UB Group management, who worked closely with Mallya for many years, claimed that Mallya had transferred almost all his assets out of the country. “I would blame the banks for all this mess,” he said. “Despite the fact that Kingfisher Airlines was grounded in 2012, the banks did not take appropriate action against him. Were they sleeping all these years? I feel he packed his bags and left even before the DRT [ruled that he cannot take the $75 million payout from Diageo, which had acquired the UB Group]. He had come to Bengaluru around a month ago to attend a UB board meeting, but no action was taken when he was present in the country.”
He said Mallya should not have ventured into the aviation sector. “I knew that he had a passion for the aviation business. We at the senior level always advised him against it. But his passion got the better of him and he finally ventured into the uncertain sector,” he said.
Kris Lakshmikanth, CEO of recruiting firm Head Hunters India, said Mallya was a hardworking person who was fond of partying. “He would be in his office well past midnight. He attended to all his tasks diligently. He was serious about his business and attended to all recruitment requirements at that hour,” he said.
According to Lakshmikanth, it was not surprising that Mallya had left the country. “Banks in India have already laid their hands to whatever they could and whatever he had pledged to the banks has been recovered. It is unlikely they will recover anything further,” he said.
Several business barons have taken the bankruptcy route to evade arrest. But Lakshmikanth feels Mallya will not take it. “He has a big ego and is politically well-connected. He will never stoop to the bankruptcy level. And he will never be arrested,” he said.
Brand consultant Harish Bijoor feels Mallya cannot be painted as a villain. “He is not all-black for sure. Mallya ran a successful liquor empire. But he diversified into a fiery industry called aviation. Out there, he burnt his hands, as well as the hands of a consortium of banks that lent him sums ranging from Rs 50 crore to Rs 1,600 crore,” said Bijoor. “In this entire business drama, there are four entities at play. One is Mallya himself, the second is the shareholder of Kingfisher Airlines, the third are the banks and the fourth is the employee. Of these four players, the only unwitting one is the employee, who worked hard for Kingfisher Airlines. The other three are all wilful players. Mallya wanted to build a new business, the banks wanted to lend money and make more money, and the shareholder was a punter. My sympathy really goes out to the employees, and employees alone.”