James the First, who ruled England when the East India Company landed in India, was the original king of the good times. The Company charter was to export from India “an annual value of £30,000 in silver, gold, and foreign coin” to England. It allowed the empire to flourish, and dandies paraded with warrior nobles at palace parties. Centuries later, Vijay Mallya fled to England from India after causing a king-size banking hangover of over Rs 9,000 crore. However, he continues to be the king of good times living it up in the UK. Capital flight has became synonymous with Kingfisher Airlines. The cause was hubris; he told me once, “I want to brand the skies.”
The government pushed for Mallya’s extradition last week, but there is little hope of putting the kingfisher in the cage. In 2012, his sweet deal with British spirits corporation, Diageo, got him $1 billion in cash. The company now wants to prosecute him for diverting $182 million ‘in improper transactions’. He owns a palatial homes in London and a country estate. The last estimate of his personal wealth by Forbes was around $800 million. When he parachuted from Diageo, he took a Rs 515 crore payoff and a glamorous lifestyle to London. One can buy enough champagne to last a lifetime for Rs 515 crore, with leftover change. And enough to shoot 12 pretty girls for the 2017 Kingfisher Calendar.
Big business, politics and money are old bedfellows. Karl Marx wrote that the East India Company was authorised and nationalised by the British Parliament to loot its colonies. Mallya, once a Rajya Sabha member, is accused of looting his companies. He also copyrighted glamour as power, running his business and lifestyle as a law unto his own. He fashioned himself as India’s most ritzy tycoon, with ties louder than his Boeing 747’s engines. Anyone owning a private jet or an airline has friends in high places. Mallya treated his political cronies with swaggering hospitality, giving MPs rides in his jet, taking them to cricket matches abroad in the company of shapely actresses.
His business model was galas, glitz and girls, which cast a spell over politicos, bureaucrats and bankers. India’s happy shining people, tycoons, ditzy actresses, models, politicians and society folk wanted to be seen at his parties. No wonder he was disappointed with MPs for sacking him, though presumably powerful friends in the government alerted him to flee before the law closed in. Now, his name has surfaced in the British voters’ list. Mallya looks extradition-proof.
Corporate culprits are on the backfoot after NaMo’s DeMo. Marx pointed out the corruption cycle between the Company, the banks and government in wealth creation garnering: “It was forced to maintain by bribing again, as did the Bank of England.” After demonetisation exposed crooked deals, a major newspaper noted that Indian banking is the new corrupt. Many bankers were caught manipulating currency and exposed for giving dodgy loans to businessmen, who then escape the law by vanishing faster than Usain Bolt.
Vijay Mallya can exploit legal loopholes to avoid extradition and has the money to hire the best lawyers. The government should use the full power of law and diplomacy to bring him home. Or else, many more will take the kingfisher route to become expat glamourists living luxury on the lam.