Indian banks petition court for liquor baron Vijay Mallya's arrest

Mr Vijay Mallya at a practice session for the Formula One Indian Grand Prix in 2011.
Mr Vijay Mallya at a practice session for the Formula One Indian Grand Prix in 2011.PHOTO: AFP

BANGALORE (AFP) - A group of Indian banks has petitioned a court seeking the arrest of liquor baron Vijay Mallya, the beleaguered businessman accused of defaulting on hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, a lawyer said on Saturday (March 5).

Heavily indebted Mr Mallya has been deep in a financial fight over his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines, which owes more than US$1 billion (S$1.37 billion) to a consortium of state-run banks and creditors.

The net now appears to be tightening around the flamboyant businessman, who last month stepped down as the chairman of United Spirits, the Indian arm of Britain's Diageo, following allegations of financial lapses.

As well as seeking Mr Mallya's arrest, the consortium of bankers and creditors led by the State Bank of India (SBI) is trying to lay claim to a US$75 million severance payout from Diageo.

The bankers, who petitioned the High Court in the southern state of Karnataka on Friday (March 4), have also asked for Mr Mallya's passport to be impounded.

The court's Justice A.S. Bopanna on Friday issued a notice to Mr Mallya seeking his response to the bankers' petition.

"The High Court has issued notice to Mallya on our writ petition to arrest him and impound his passport for his statement to the media that he would soon be moving to Britain to live with his family," a lawyer for the SBI told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Mr Mallya last month said that, having recently turned 60, he plans to move to Britain to be closer to his children.

At his height the liquor baron was nicknamed "India's Richard Branson", but his empire later began to crumble under the weight of Kingfisher's losses.

Last year, the SBI declared the tycoon a "wilful defaulter" for not repaying loans made to Kingfisher Airlines. The airline was grounded in 2012.

Mr Mallya, who is also an independent lawmaker in the Indian parliament's upper house, sold a large chunk of United Spirits, which he inherited from his father, to Diageo in April 2014.

But the London-based drinks giant had been reportedly trying to oust him as chairman after an internal inquiry found financial irregularities at the Indian group's Bangalore arm.

Known for his lavish lifestyle, he owns a stake in the Force India Formula One team and is the chief mentor of the Bangalore team in the lucrative Indian Premier League Twenty20 competition.