Jan 27: Market watch dog Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) has come under fire from fugitive liquor baron Vijay Mallya for barring him and his acolytes from accessing the capital market. The erstwhile `King of Good Times’, who is now on the run, has broken his long silence and taken to Twitter to vent his ire on the market regulator for banning him from the accessing capital market on, what he dubbed as a “joke”’ based on “baseless charges”.
Sebi, in an order put out in its website late Wednesday, had barred Vijay Malya and his acolytes from accessing capital market for a period of at least three years for his alleged role in money laundering when he was at the helm of country’s largest Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) maker United Spirits Ltd (USL) and diverting money to shell companies owned by him or people associated with him, the charges he vehemently denies.
However, a forensic audit conducted by the new management of USL found Mallya guilty of money laundering and diverting funds to off-shore shell companies set up by him and is weighing legal options to get the money back allegedly swindled from the company by Mallya with the tacit compliance of some of the company executives, which are culpable under the law of the land.
USL mulls filing a winding up petition against Mallya’s holding company United Breweries (Holding) Ltd (UBHL) for recovering the loans taken by the company which is long overdue along with penal interest. UBHL still holds majority stake in the country’s largest beer maker United Breweries which market it under the popular brand name Kingfisher.
Mallya, who is at large for over a year after the dirt hit the sealing, in a series of tweets, called the allegations of fund diversion concerning long grounded Kingfisher Airlines a “joke” and said he is getting used to “witch hunts coming from all directions with no legal basis whatsoever”.
“CBI alleges diversion of funds out of Kingfisher Air. Sebi alleges diversion of funds from USL into Kingfisher Air. What joke is this?” Mallya asked in one of his tweets.
“Allegations of fund diversion out of USL are baseless. USL accounts were approved by top auditors, an eminent Board of Directors (and) shareholders,” leading news agencies quoted him as saying in his tweets.
Sebi had barred Mallya and six others from accessing the capital market in a case related to alleged fund diversions from USL, a company owned by the billionaire liquor baron’s business empire before he ceded the controlling stake in the IMFL maker to Johnnie Walker and Smirnoff Vodka brands owner Diageo several years back. He has also resigned as director and Chairman of USL in March 2016.
“For 30 years I built the World’s largest Spirits Company (and) India’s largest Brewing Company. Also launched the finest Airline. This is what I get,” Mallya tweeted. He alleged that there is a witch-hunt against him by the government.
“I am kind of getting used to these witch hunts coming from all directions with no legal basis whatsoever. Shows what Govt Machinery can do,” said Mallya said in one of his tweets.
Claiming Kingfisher Airlines “was a great public utility service connecting India like never before” he said: “It was not my private toy.”
Mallya, who is now reportedly operating out of London, also scoffed at suggestions that he had fled the country in the wake of the investigations against him saying his departure was “nothing sudden. I have been a non-resident (Indian) since 1988”.
The Government of India has so far hit a wall in its attempt to get him deported to face umpteen charges despite the Modi government’s promise to bring black money home and book the tax dodgers under the relevant laws of the land before junking 78% of strategic bank notes in circulation on November 8, 2016. Mallya fled India, incidentally, on a diplomatic passport and is holed up somewhere in London making a mockery of Modi government’s promises, even after the Parliament, in a rare show of unanimity, revoked his passport(s).