Tycoon to typhoon: Mallya blows hot
Kingfisher Airlines Chairman Vijay Mallya who appeared at the Indian Grand Prix in Greater Noida on Saturday, was in his usual combative mood. The booze-to-aviation baron aggressively deflected media queries on his troubled airlines business and his alleged flaunting of his wealth when airline employees were struggling to make ends meet.
Explaining his stand about meeting Kingfisher staff, Mallya said, “I was available at home. I don’t know why they (staff) did not want to come and talk to me there.”
The tycoon, no longer a billionaire according to the latest Forbes list, flew in from London on his private Airbus. Queried by a local reporter on this, Mallya thundered, “You are probably referring to my plane being seized? Wonderful! I don’t owe anybody money. Why should my plane be at risk…it’s so stupid.”
Mallya, also chairman of the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs in India, said, “Kingfisher Airlines is a Plc (Public Limited Company). The local media don't understand the concept of a Plc.”
Within seconds of walking through the paddock at the Formula I races, the self-styed ‘King of Good Times’, who has always maintained that journalists in India do not understand motorsport, was understandably cornered by a host of local and international journalists to quiz him on his recent troubles.
Picking and choosing questions and the journalists who he thought appropriate enough to interact with, Mallya answered sparingly, yet scathingly, and rebuked his doubters, all the while lashing out at the media at every available opportunity.
“Was there any doubt about my presence here?” he responded to a query from a foreign journalist. “You believe that Indian papers have any credibility? There is no libel law in India so there is nothing you can do to bring them to the book,” he added, accusing the Indian media of “cooking up sensational headlines daily” and writing “nonsense”.
“Obviously, if I am not at my home Grand Prix, why should I be anywhere else?,” he added.
Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines had its licence suspended by the civil aviation authorities last week and has not flown since the start of October after a protest by employees, unpaid since March, turned violent.
The airline has never turned a profit and, according to the consultancy Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, has debts estimated at about $2.5 billion.
Mallya has not been seen in India for weeks and the airlines troubles, as well as protest threats by Kingfisher employees outside the Formula One circuit, had led to speculation about whether he would return for the race.
Mallya is an important figure in Formula One, a longtime friend of F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and sitting on the governing International Automobile Federation’s world motor sport council. He was also instrumental in bringing the sport to the country and co-owns the first and only Indian-licensed team.
Mallya also controls United Spirits, which is in talks to sell a stake to UK giant Diageo Plc, and flagship liquor business United Breweries.