India. UB board to keep faith in Vijay Mallya, for now

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Says willing to come back to India if govt assured him safe passage

The United Breweries (UB) board would continue to maintain confidence in UB Chairman Vijay Mallya unless he was convicted or asked to step down to conform with regulatory requirements, said Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, an old friend of Mallya and an independent board member at UB.

“If they are willing to offer me safe passage, I am willing to come and answer all questions,” Mazumdar-Shaw, recalled him as saying. “I feel I’m being victimised, so, right now, I’m in no position to return till I’m treated fairly.”

Mallya participated in the board meeting of UB via a video call late last week.

During the meeting, Mallya addressed concerns of the UB board, where he remains the chairman. The board development was first reported in The Economic Times.

UB, once controlled by Mallya, is now majority-owned by Dutch beer maker Heineken; he had sold sold stake to raise money to fund the now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines. The latter’s failure also caused the collapse of Mallya’s liquor empire — he’d once controlled the largest spirits and beverages maker in the country. And, has been left owing about Rs 9,000 crore of loans to a group of banks.

Mallya, in self-exile in Britain, had proposed to participate in the Enforcement Directorate’s ongoing probe of him via video conferencing; the suggestion was rejected by the investigative agency.

He has apparently said he was being victimised and was willing to return for questioning if the government assured him ‘safe passage’.

Mallya is facing investigations by the ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation over money laundering charges on a Rs 900-crore loan raised from IDBI Bank for the defunct airline. The money was sanctioned despite an internal IDBI report to not advance the money.

The UBL board includes Frans Erik Eusman, the Asia-Pacific head of Heineken. Mallya told the board he was in a difficult position and due to this, could not return to India. He would keep them posted about new developments in the case against him. Mallya added that he continued trying to reach out to banks to settle his dues that amount to Rs 9,000 crore.

Questioned about how he was planning to settle the dues of employees of Kingfisher Airlines, Shaw quoted Mallya as saying he’d made an offer to settle these through United Breweries Holdings a while earlier but his bank accounts were frozen and the Karnataka high court had denied him the route.

Mallya left the country on March 2 and has had his passport revoked. The government of Britain has apparently advised Delhi to look at the extradition route to bring him back.