Vijay Mallya, founder and chairman of Kingfisher Airlines Ltd., arrives for the ruling in his extradition hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London, U.K. (Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg)

Mallya Can Be Sent to India in Fraud Case, U.K. Judge Says

(Bloomberg) -- Vijay Mallya, the fugitive Indian tycoon fighting multiple cases in the U.K. after defaulting on loans, lost a bid to avoid extradition to his home country where he faces charges of fraud and money laundering.

Judge Emma Arbuthnot ruled against Mallya at a hearing in London Monday, largely rejecting Mallya’s arguments that the case was politically motivated.

"I do not accept the courts in India are there to do what the politicians tell them what to do," Arbuthnot told a packed courtroom. "There is no sign that this is a false case” to assuage Indian prosecutors’ “political masters."

The ruling by the British court is a crucial win for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which has been battling to contain the political damage after some 31 Indians linked to fraud cases fled abroad to avoid prosecution. With national elections due early next year, Modi is under pressure to act against wealthy defaulters as the nation’s lenders step up efforts to clean up bad loans, partly by tightening bankruptcy rules.

The judge told Mallya that he faced “a long process,” and could remain free on bail in the meantime. The matter will be referred to the U.K. Home Office.

Mallya, 62, was arrested in London in April 2017 after a consortium of 17 banks accused him of willfully defaulting on more than 91 billion rupees ($1.3 billion) in debt accumulated by his 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.

Dubbed the “king of good times” back in India after the tagline for Kingfisher beer, Mallya left the country in 2016 for England to be closer to his children and has since refused to return. While local authorities labeled the former lawmaker a “fugitive,” he said he was facing trial by media with a “lynch mob mentality all too apparent,” and doubted if he would get a fair trial back home.

Besides Mallya, India’s government is also seeking to prosecute individuals including Nirav Modi, a jeweler who’s been accused by Punjab National Bank of fraud, allegations he’s denied.

Mallya, who has sparred with the local media for portraying him as the poster boy for the nation’s bad loans, has maintained that his airline was an “unfortunate commercial failure” because of macroeconomic factors and government policies.

In tweets this month, Mallya denied the allegations against him but offered to pay lenders back the principal amount he owed.

After taking over a beer and liquor empire from his father in the 1980s, Mallya ventured into aviation with Kingfisher Airlines in a bid to redefine luxury travel in India. He was ranked the 45th-richest Indian by Forbes in 2012, with a net worth of $1 billion.

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