India seeks tycoon's extradition, says UK nixes deportation

NEW DELHI – India will ask Britain to extradite business tycoon Vijay Mallya to face charges of money laundering and bank demands that he pay back more than a billion dollars in loans extended to his now-defunct airline, the finance minister said Wednesday.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said India would begin extradition proceedings once official charges are filed against the businessman.

Britain told India it cannot deport Mallya because he entered the country on a valid passport in March, even though India revoked the passport a month later, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said.

“At the same time, the UK acknowledges the seriousness of the allegations and is keen to assist,” Swarup said.

India’s Enforcement Directorate, now investigating the liquor baron’s debts totalling 94 billion rupees ($1.4 billion), asked a New Delhi court this week to demand Mallya’s presence during legal proceedings. It has said Mallya was not co-operating with investigators, and three times ignored their summons to give evidence.

Opposition politicians have accused the Indian government of letting Mallya flee abroad while being pursued by banks for debt repayment. The government denies the charge, noting that banks had not initiated legal process to prevent him from leaving by the time he boarded the flight out of India on March 2.

Mallya — famous for his flashy lifestyle and lavish parties attended by fashion models and Bollywood stars — was once hailed as India’s version of British tycoon Richard Branson for his investments in a brewing and liquor company, an airline, a Formula One team and an Indian Premier League cricket club.

His downfall was triggered by the failure of Kingfisher Airlines, which he launched in 2005. The Indian government in 2012 suspended the airline’s license after it failed to pay pilots and engineers for months.

Mallya ceded management control of his flagship United Spirits Limited to global spirits company Diageo. Diageo’s agreement last month to pay Mallya $75 million in exchange for his resignation as chairman of USL prompted a legal push by competing creditors, who say they should have the first claim to that money.