Banks battle Vijay Mallya over superyachts, cars, artwork


First, Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya faced losing his “palatial” London home, with UBS Group AG saying it wanted to foreclose. Then, a judge said he should be extradited to India. Now, banks are eyeing two superyachts and a collection of valuable cars that they believe he may own.

A group of Indian banks — which are trying to collect more than a billion pounds ($1.3 billion) in debt from Mallya — want documents that would shed light on the “true ownership” of assets including yachts, cars, and paintings, according to their court filings for a hearing Friday in London.

Mallya says the items are held by trusts that he has no control of, according to the banks’ filings. The 63-year-old wasn’t represented at the hearing and didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. He’s still in the U.K. and is waiting for the British government to make a final decision on his extradition.

The superyachts are the 95-meter (312-foot) Indian Empress and the 50-meter Force India. Force India is impounded in Southampton, southern England, and Indian Empress was sold by a Maltese court in September for 35 million euros ($40 million), which is being held by the court. According to court documents, Force India is owned by a Maltese company and the Indian Empress was owned by an Isle of Man company until its sale.

‘Elton John Piano’

On board the Indian empresses were an “Elton John piano and high-value artwork” and the banks wanted to know whether these had been removed before it was sold, they said in their filings. They didn’t provide details of the piano’s links to the singer.

There are “many very valuable assets” that are held through “a complex ownership structure comprising offshore companies and discretionary trusts,” the banks said.

The trusts are said to be operated for the benefit of Mallya’s family, including his three children and his mother, the banks’ filings said. Though Mallya says he has no interest in those trusts and assets, the banks said they “do not believe him” and argue that he does, or that he “has only relatively recently divested himself of his interests to make himself judgment-proof.”

Judge Christopher Hancock adjourned the hearing on Friday, saying the case would be considered at a later date.

Enforcement officers found 27 cars — including a Mini Moke, a version of the iconic 1960s model that features a stripped-back body shell and resembles a golf buggy — at a property linked to Mallya in July and the banks also want more details about these, they said, noting that Mallya is “known as having a keen interest in cars.”

Mallya ran Formula 1’s Force India team.

Loans

Mallya — a former member of parliament in India — is fighting multiple lawsuits after defaulting on bank loans. The source of Mallya’s legal problems is about $1.3 billion in loans that he took out in India for the now defunct Kingfisher Airlines Ltd., which he founded in 2005. Disputes over the loans led to civil lawsuits in India and the U.K. as well as criminal fraud charges.

“Banks have given an open license to their lawyers in England to pursue multiple frivolous litigations against me,” Mallya tweeted on Friday, ahead of the London hearing, though he didn’t say he was referring to that case. “Who is accountable for spending public money on legal fees in such a brazen manner?”

The beer tycoon and founder of Kingfisher Airlines were dubbed the “king of good times” in India, after the tagline for Kingfisher beer. He was arrested in London in April 2017 after a consortium of 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 is someone who refuses to repay loans despite having the means to do so.

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