Indian businessman Mallya makes offer to clear massive debts

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

NEW DELHI (AP) — Flamboyant Indian businessman Vijay Mallya, who is accused of fleeing to London this month owing more than a billion dollars to Indian banks, told India's top court on Wednesday that he would repay over 40 percent of his debts by September, one of his lawyers said.

Mallya, who has failed to appear for questioning by authorities, made the offer to the Supreme Court, said the lawyer, C.S. Vaidyanathan.

The Press Trust of India news agency reported that the court gave the banks a week to respond to Mallya's proposal. If they decline to accept it, then he will face prosecution.

Mallya has failed to appear for questioning by India's Enforcement Directorate, which has been investigating his massive debt liability since he left for London earlier this month. He made his court appearance by videoconference on Wednesday.

On March 9, the Supreme Court had sought Mallya's response within two weeks to pleas by the State Bank of India and other lenders seeking cancellation of his passport and his presence in the court.

The opposition Congress party has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government of letting Mallya fly out of India on March 2 while he was being pursued by the banks over massive debts amounting to 9 billion rupees ($1.3 billion).

India's finance minister, Arun Jaitley, defended Mallya's exit, saying the banks had not initiated the legal process to prevent him from leaving the country by the time he boarded a flight out of India.

Mallya was once hailed as India's version of Richard Branson for his investments in a brewing and liquor company, an airline, a Formula One team and an Indian Premier League cricket club.

His downfall was triggered by the failure of Kingfisher Airlines, which he launched in 2005. The Indian government in 2012 suspended the license of the airline after it failed to pay pilots and engineers for months.

Mallya ceded management control of his flagship United Spirits Limited to global spirits company Diageo. Diageo's agreement last month to pay $75 million in exchange for resigning as chairman of USL prompted the latest legal push by competing creditors, who say they should have the first claim to that money.

Mallya is famous for his flashy lifestyle and lavish parties attended by fashion models, Bollywood movie stars and cricket players.