Industrialist Vijay Mallya left the country the very day the banks, to which he owed over Rs. 9,000 crore, moved the Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT). The information came to light at a hearing before the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Thirteen banks, led by State Bank of India (SBI), represented by Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi and advocate Robin Ratnakar David, told a Bench of Justices Kurian Joseph and Rohinton Nariman that the liquor baron is said to have left the country on March 2, the day they approached the DRT.
Mr. Rohatgi said he was told about Mr. Mallya’s departure by the CBI. Hardly 24 hours earlier, the banks urgently moved the court to restrain Mr. Mallya, a Rajya Sabha member, from leaving the country.
They wanted the court to seize his passport. Prompted by the urgency of the banks’ pleas, Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur on Tuesday posted the case for the next day.
Mr. Rohatgi asked the court to pass an order directing Mr. Mallya to appear before this Bench, passport in hand. “We are not after anybody’s blood. We want to sit across him and reach a settlement on getting back our money,” Mr. Rohatgi said in a conciliatory tone.
Most of Mallya’s assets are abroad, says Attorney-General
Mr. Rohatgi told the court that some “information” about Mr. Mallya’s assets was gathered from social media sites, and this showed his properties were mostly abroad. “Only a fraction is in India... maybe one-fifth,” he said.
“Then how did you give these loans? Was there no secured assets on these loans?” asked Justice Kurian Joseph, who was on the Bench with Justice Rohinton Nariman.
Mr. Rohatgi, who appeared for the consortium of banks, replied that when the loans were granted, Kingfisher Airlines was a brand at its peak, with assets worth some thousand crores, and then “it crashed.” “We had some assets [as security] for the loans advanced,” he said.
The Bench issued notice to Mr. Mallya through his company United Breweries (Holdings) Limited, his counsel, the Indian High Commissioner at the U.K. and through his official Rajya Sabha email address.
The court sought a reply from him in two weeks and fixed the hearing for March 30. When Justice Kurian asked Mr. Rohatgi what was the guarantee that Mr. Mallya would be in the U.K. to receive the notice, Mr. Rohatgi replied: “He has tremendous assets there. We know he would be there... most likely.”
The banks moved the Supreme Court after the Karnataka High Court refused to pass an ex parte order against Mr. Mallya, the U.K.-based Diageo Plc and United Spirits Limited. They told the Supreme Court that the threat to their financial interests was immediate and grave.
Before moving the High Court, the banks filed four pleas before the Debt Recovery Tribunal in Bengaluru for immediate action such as freezing of Mr. Mallya’s passport, issuance of an arrest warrant and a garnishee order against Diageo Plc and United Spirits Limited from disbursing $75 million.
Final arguments on April 27
A Delhi court on Wednesday fixed April 27 as the date for hearing final arguments in a two-decades-old case against the liquor baron.
(With additional inputs from Nirnimesh Kumar)