Vijay Mallya, the flamboyant Indian tycoon who came to symbolise elite excess in the country, was arrested in London on Tuesday as extradition proceeding began to make him stand trial for alleged fraud in India.
Mr Mallya, whose Kingfisher Airlines collapsed in 2012, fled to London in early 2016 after India’s state banks stepped up pressure on him to repay $1.3bn in debts left by the collapse of the carrier.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been seeking his extradition to India, where prosecutors want to put him on trial on allegations of fraud and illegal fund diversions in connection with the collapse of the carrier.
In January, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation filed criminal charges against Mr Mallya, alongside nine of his bankers and former senior executives, for the alleged diversion of funds from a $134m loan extended by the state-owned IDBI bank to the ailing Kingfisher. These allegations will form the centre of New Delhi’s case for Mr Mallya’s extradition to India.
Mr Mallya, the former chairman of United Spirits, the largest spirits company in India and maker of popular Kingfisher beer, was taken into custody at a police station by Scotland Yard’s extradition unit.
Scotland Yard confirmed his arrest “on behalf of Indian authorities” seeking his return. He was granted conditional bail a few hours later, after a preliminary court appearance.
Indian government officials were quick to trumpet the news of Mr Mallya’s arrest as a political victory for Mr Modi and his administration.
“It is a big success of the Indian government and the finance ministry,” said Jitendra Singh, a cabinet minister. “The Modi government has done what previous governments couldn’t manage to do.
Afterwards, Mr Mallya took to Twitter to downplay the arrest. “Usual Indian media hype,” he tweeted. “Extradition hearing in court started today as expected.”
The proceedings on Tuesday mark the opening of what is likely to be a protracted legal battle, whose first phase could last anywhere from 18 months to two years.
Even if the court rules against him and orders his return to India, Mr Mallya would retain the right to appeal, which could extend the process even longer.
Mr Mallya, India’s self-styled “King of Good Times”, became a reviled figure among the Indian public after the collapse of his airline, as he carried on with his luxurious lifestyle despite the company failing to pay pilots and cabin crew who worked for months without salaries.
But after he flew singer Enrique Iglesias to entertain guests at a 60th birthday party at a sprawling beachfront bungalow in Goa in December 2015, Mr Modi’s government became determined to make an example of him as a warning to other powerful Indian tycoons whose unpaid loans were still weighing down the books of the state banking system.
In March 2016, he decamped to the UK even as his creditors sought a court order to stop him. But Mr Mallya has denied fleeing his debts, and instead described his decision to live in the UK as “forced exile”, given what he describes as a “witch-hunt” against him.
In its efforts to make him return, India revoked Mr Mallya’s Indian passport, and then appealed to the UK to deport him. But British authorities refused the request, as the tycoon had long-term residence rights in the UK — which officials said did not depend on his possession of a valid passport.
India then moved ahead with formal extradition proceedings. The next hearing in the case will be May 17.
Additional reporting by Jyotsna Singh in New Delhi.
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