INDIAN liquor baron Vijay Mallya, under pressure from banks to repay more than $1 billion of debt owed by his collapsed airline, left the country last week, a lawyer for the lenders told the country’s top court.
More than a dozen state-run banks - led by the country’s largest, State Bank of India, - had appealed to the Supreme Court asking that Mallya be stopped from leaving as they step up pressure on the one-time billionaire.
On Wednesday (March 9), Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, representing the banks, told the Supreme Court he had been told by police that Mallya left India on March 2, and asked the court to demand his return. Mallya’s exact whereabouts are not known.
The court has asked Mallya to reply to a notice issued to him within two weeks, after which it will hear the case again. Details of the notice were not made public.
Mallya, an extravagant, larger-than-life personality who billed himself as the “King of Good Times”, has become one of India’s most famous errant borrowers, with newspapers closely following the fortunes of his yacht, jet and properties.
The debt at the heart of his troubles is owed by his Kingfisher Airlines, but was personally guaranteed by Mallya.
A spokesman for Mallya’s UB Group did not respond to calls and email seeking comment.
In a statement on Sunday (March 6), Mallya said he had no intention of running away from creditors and was in talks with them for a one-time settlement of the Kingfisher debt.
Mallya was last month ousted as the chairman of top Indian spirits maker United Spirits, a unit of British spirits giant Diageo Plc.
A separate tribunal on Monday (March 7) temporarily blocked a $75 million settlement Mallya is due to receive from Diageo.
Kingfisher, once India’s second-biggest airline, collapsed in 2013, leaving creditors, suppliers and employees unpaid. The airline owed banks Rs69.63bn ($1.03 billion) as of the end of January 2014.
Including interest and other expenses, its liability is about Rs90bn ($1.34 billion), Rohatgi told the Supreme Court.