Former Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya returned to a London court to fight extradition to his home country to face fraud and money-laundering charges.
The tycoon’s lawyers said at a hearing that a previous ruling to send him back to India ignored evidence and simply misunderstood the circumstances that ultimately led to the collapse of Kingfisher Airlines Ltd in 2012.
Mallya, who’s known as the “King of Good Times” in India, was arrested in London in April 2017 after 17 banks accused him of willfully defaulting on more than 91 billion rupees ($1.3 billion) in debt accumulated by Kingfisher Airlines — a full-service carrier he founded in 2005 and shut down seven years later. A willful defaulter refuses to repay loans despite having the means to do so.
“This isn’t a ponzi scheme, it’s an airline,” Mallya’s lawyer, Clare Montgomery, told the court. “Dr. Mallya is not a fly-by-night figure, he’s a man who’s immensely wealthy.”
The tycoon, who is on bail, was sitting in a packed courtroom alongside members of the public. He lost a bid to avoid extradition in a lower London tribunal in 2018, but was granted permission to appeal. The Indian government describes the appeal as an “uphill battle” in written submissions and says Mallya must face trial in relation to “a very substantial allegation of dishonesty.”
The magistrate who ordered his extradition two years ago “didn’t look at all the evidence because, if she had done, she wouldn’t have fallen into the multiple errors we respectfully say permeated” when she concluded that Airlines executives misrepresented its financial loss in 2009, Montgomery said.
The main piece of overlooked evidence was Kingfisher’s annual financial accounts, which clearly stated accurate loss figures, Montgomery added. “She simply missed things that clearly would have altered her view,” she said.
When asked by Judge Stephen Irwin if Montgomery was “contesting that the senior magistrate didn’t understand,” Mallya’s lawyer responded that she was.
“It’s not a question of error, but more a question of ignorance,” Montgomery said.
The government of India and Mallya didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mallya is also fighting a number of civil cases in the U.K. after defaulting on loans. He faces a bankruptcy petition from 12 state-owned Indian banks over $1.5 billion in debt, as well as a number of freezing orders on several of his assets, including his properties, yachts, cars and paintings.