The flamboyant Indian drinks baron Vijay Mallya was once known as "The King of Good Times" on account of his hard-partying ways, says The Times. Last week he was given the slightly less welcome soubriquet of "the runaway tycoon", amid claims he has fled to Britain from India to avoid legal action over $1.4bn of unpaid debts relating to his collapsed Kingfisher Airlines. Branded a "wilful defaulter" by several of his bank creditors, Mallya denies any suggestion of wilful escape. But his disappearance has caused uproar in India. Believed to be holed up in his Hertfordshire mansion, Mallya tweeted last week that he is merely visiting and has "not absconded".
The episode is the latest chapter in the chequered history of a mogul once dubbed the "Branson of Banglalore", after building an empire of lifestyle businesses linked by an unapologetically glamorous personal brand. A decade ago Mallya seemed to be "flying high", says the Financial Times. His companies United Spirits and United Breweries were "the undisputed heavyweights" of India's growing market for alcoholic drinks. He had just launched a new "all frills" airline, boasting that he had hand-picked "the prettiest air hostesses in the sky". Kingfisher Airlines was an instant hit with locals, emboldening Mallya to place one of the largest orders of Airbusaircraft and promise international flights to London. In the drinks trade too he was flexing international muscle. In 2007 he spent nearly £600m acquiring the Scotch whisky group Whyte & Mackay a move that propelled United Spirits into the international big league.
Meanwhile, a sideline career as "a rupee-rolling sports business phenomenon" beckoned, says BBC News Scotland. Having snapped up a Bangalore cricket team in 2008 (renaming it Royal Challengers after a whisky brand), Mallya became "a key figure in the growth of Indian Premier League cricket". He also established a Formula One team, Force India, cutting a dashing figure at Monaco Grand Prix on the deck of his yacht, Indian Empress.
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Mallya was born in 1955. His father was an industrialist who made a fortune supplying beer to British troops on the subcontinent, says The Guardian. After university he went into the family business, masterminding the relaunch of Kingfisher beer. On his father's early death in 1983, Mallya became chairman of the United Breweries Group. He never quite shrugged off a youthful reputation as a playboy, but impressed peers in India with his audacious, precise deal making.
"How did it all go so horribly wrong?" asks the Indian Express. Blame it on the brutal descent of Kingfisher Airlines. Weakened by a rising oil price, and overstretched by the acquisition of another local airline, Air Deccan, the operation piled up losses and in 2010 was forced into a debt restructure from which it never recovered. Forced into an asset sale including his beloved United Spirits to Diageo Mallya is a shadow of his former ebullient self, and must face the music from creditors if he returns to India. No wonder he's dragging his heels.
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