Vijay Mallya (Right) is losing the plot thick and fast © IANS
Vijay Mallya (Right) is losing the plot thick and fast © IANS

By Sai Manish

Disgraced businessman Vijay Mallya might be on the run but soon he might be running out of places to hide. Documents accessed by DNA, show that when Mallya had complete control over United Spirits Ltd (USL), almost Rs 170 crore were diverted from USL to the accounts of his Indian Premier League (IPL) team Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). READ: Royal Challengers Bangalore and Vijay Mallya separate paths

The transfer of funds was masqueraded as an allotment of his IPL team’s shares to USL, of whom Mallya was the principal promoter at the time of the transaction. The shares were allotted by RCB to USL on March 11, 2011. Nominal shares worth Rs 10 were allotted to USL for an astounding sum of Rs 3,62,240 per share. That was an astronomical self-valuation of an IPL team which was barely three years old as a brand. The allotment of fully paid up shares at such a premium meant that Rs 170 crore were diverted from USL’s account into RCB’s accounts that year. READ: RCB, Kingfisher Airlines sold — Sir Richard Branson buys out Dr Vijay Mallya’s twin business

These revelations by DNA come a day after the Income Tax department and India’s Ministry of Corporate Affairs have begun investigations into the books of USL. Mallya still holds a minority stake in USL after selling it off to Diageo in 2013. Mallya has been playing hardball with the board members of Diageo, who suspect him of large-scale diversion of funds to other subsidiaries that has made USL a loss-making enterprise. India’s market regulator SEBI is also probing financial irregularities in USL while Mallya was in charge. Additionally, audit firm Price WaterHouse Coopers had found out in its enquiry, that between 2010 to 2014, USL funds were diverted to other companies owned by Mallya without the approval of the company’s shareholders. READ: Vijay Mallya – the royally challenged IPL team owner

A historical juxtaposition of events throws valuable light on the reasons for the diversion of funds from USL to Mallya’s IPL team in 2011.

In the IPL auctions held in January 2011, Mallya’s team was the most aggressive buyer. They retained only one player, current Indian captain Virat Kohli, and put up their entire team for sale. At the end of the auction, RCB emerged as the team that spent the most on buying new players. After spending almost $8.6 million (about Rs 55 crore), RCB ended with players like AB de Villiers and Saurabh Tiwary who were bought for more than $1 million each. A part of the money diverted from USL was also used to pick up players like Zaheer Khan, Daniel Vettori, Cheteshwar Pujara and Dirk Nannes (who was later replaced by Chris Gayle during the tournament). READ: Vijay Mallya may sell Royal Challengers Bangalore stakes

Sources in the IT department have revealed that they will also be monitoring transactions carried out by USL during Mallya’s tenure with a host of ‘ghost companies’. Initial inspection of USL’s books has given IT sleuths hints of possible round tripping of money from dummy overseas companies. Sources reveal that by the end of 2013, related party transactions in USL’s books amounted to close to Rs 330 crore. In some instances money had been taken as loans from these companies and in others money had flown to them.

USL had over 70 subsidiaries in countries like UK, Mauritius and the US. IT sources reveal that many of them had no substantial activities to show. Some of these ceased to be subsidiaries in 2013 while many still continue to be under USL. It is the ones which are still subsidiaries that are of peculiar interest to India’s investigators. Among the USL subsidiaries likely to be under the scanner include Grey Rogers & Co., Findlater Scotch Whisky Ltd, Four Seasons Wines Ltd, The Sheep Dip Whisky Co. Ltd and a host of other companies across the world.

This is not the first time Vijay Mallya has been accused of playing hardball. Mallya’s now defunct Kingfisher Airlines owes over Rs 7,000 crore to Indian banks and was unable to pay back its loans. Some banks have given up hope of ever recovering the money from Mallya’s airline. Other banks are struggling to recover even a part of their multi-billion dollar loans by sale of assets personally pledged by Mallya to avail the loans.
A questionnaire sent to USL’s spokesperson did not elicit a response till the time of going to press.

(The writer works at DNA, where the above article first appeared)