Kingfisher failure may down Mallya

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Mumbai - More than a year after one of India’s top airlines, Kingfisher, stopped flying, its flamboyant owner, Vijay Mallya, is battling against losing control of his $2.2 billion (R24.3bn) corporate empire.

Mallya, once the self-proclaimed “King of Good Times”, made his fortune in the liquor business and controls a conglomerate spanning beer, airlines, fertilisers and engineering.

But in several firms in his United Breweries Group, 58-year-old Mallya’s ownership has substantially shrunk, while in others, large portions of his holdings are pledged with banks – and in some cases are to be sold off. “The legacy of the empire, which he inherited from his dad, is at risk,” said a Mumbai-based analyst from a group that has lent to Mallya’s companies, asking not to be named.

Mallya, the owner of a Formula 1 team, was India’s 29th richest man in 2007, worth an estimated $1.5bn, according to Forbes. But pressure on him has mounted over the past two years since Kingfisher Airlines’s fortunes went into a downward spiral, hit by high fuel prices, fierce competition and heavy interest costs. The airline, which never made a profit since it began flying in 2005, owes vast sums to banks, airports, fuel suppliers and staff, while owners of its grounded planes have taken them back.

Last year, banks which say they lent more than $1.5bn to Kingfisher started demanding immediate repayment after Mallya failed to come up with a convincing airline revival plan. He is in a bitter legal battle with lenders to prevent them from selling assets given as security against loans, which the banks say include his villa in Goa.

As part of a money-raising strategy, Mallya in 2012 abandoned control of his United Spirits to British drinks group Diageo – although a court has since annulled the decision in response to a petition from Kingfisher creditors chasing their dues.

Dutch brewer Heineken last year upped its holding in United Breweries, which makes Kingfisher beer, to about 39 percent, overtaking Mallya’s stake.

Forbes magazine in October last year said Mallya’s net worth had halved to $750 million, but that rising stock prices of United Breweries had kept him “afloat”. – Sapa-AFP


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