Vijay Mallya, the multimillionaire co-owner of the Force India Formula One team and self-proclaimed “King of the Good Times”, does not appear to be preparing for his possible extradition to India to face a fraud trial on allegations over £1bn of unpaid debts.
Landscape gardeners were this week laying a truckload of fresh turf in the grounds of his £11.5m mansion in the sleepy Hertfordshire village of Tewin, nearly Welwyn, 20 miles north of London. After the installation of three fountains in one of two garden pools and a four-car garage to house a fraction of his collection of 260 classic cars, the lawn should be the last step in the two-year makeover of his Ladywalk estate on Queen Hoo Lane.
The property, previously owned by the father of F1 champion Lewis Hamilton, bristles with so many CCTV cameras (the Guardian counted eight) that a security guard dressed head-to-toe in black appeared at the wrought iron gates before the Guardian even had a chance to ring the bell. “You can’t come in,” he said.
Asked if it was possible to speak to his boss, the guard – who was working with two colleagues carrying binoculars and iPads showing live feeds of the security cameras – said only: “He might be in, he might not be.”
Mallya was once known as the “Branson of Bangalore” for his business and sport empire which included beer, spirits and an airline. But his fall from a billionaire playboy – known for his beer company Kingfisher’s take on the Pirelli calendar and for hosting celebrity parties on his 311ft superyacht Indian Empress during the Monte Carlo grand prix – to alleged fugitive from justice was completed this week when he was arrested by Scotland Yard on an extradition warrant.
The police said Mallya, 61, was arrested on behalf of the Indian authorities in relation to accusations of fraud. The tycoon dismissed the furore surrounding his arrest as “media hype” and said his arrest and appearance at Westminster magistrates court was “expected” before an extradition hearing. He denies the fraud allegations.
His security guard refused to answer any more questions as he stood at the gates to the estate, which are flanked by black posts embossed in gold with Mallya’s VJM initials.
A Silver Maybach also bears the VJM initials on its number plate, and his private Airbus A319 jet had the initials painted in gold on the engines and wingtips until it was put up for auction to pay his creditors.
A sign with a picture of Mallya’s four dogs – golden retrievers Luna and Bella, and Bichon lapdogs Elsa and Daisy – urges workmen to drive slowly through the three-house estate.
His neighbours know Mallya lives next door but they have not met him and are a little wary of the media after the Indian press corps camped outside the gates for days when it was revealed last year that the businessman was holed up there.
India’s prime minister has singled out Mallya, accused of fleeing the country owing about £1bn to banks and employees of his failed Kingfisher Airlines, of ripping off India and Indians.
Narendra Modi, who the Indian press said raised Mallya’s extradition with Theresa May during her state visit to the country last year, tweeted:
Mallya denies the accusations and tweeted: “Not a rupee was misused.”
The landlord of the Rose & Crown on Tewin’s village green said he had not seen Mallya since he and his considerable staff moved to the village but he had heard him. “I don’t know him, I’ve never met him, but I have heard his helicopter flying over,” he said.
Several members of the Tewin Thursdays walking group, who were planning this week’s walk over coffee and sourdough toasties at the Country Bumpkin tearoom on Tewin Hill, admitted to being fascinated by Mallya’s presence in the village. “This is not the most exciting village,” said Chris, a retiree organising this week’s work.
“His [Mallya’s] house used to be owned by Anthony Hamilton, Lewis Hamilton’s dad, so it has always been a talking point. A public footpath runs round the property so we have been able to see all the changes and comings and goings, but he seems to keep very much to himself.”
Chris said Mallya’s secretary had expressed interest in joining the walking group, but she had not yet met them for their weekly hike.
While many residents said they were happy to have Mallya living in their village, Colin, a retired airline catering manager who lives in a house on the green, said if Mallya was being legitimately sought by the Indian authorities he should “go back and face the music”.
“It doesn’t matter how much money you have or how rich you are, you can’t avoid the law,” Colin said. “It’s disgusting that he is living here in all this luxury if he owes his country money and hasn’t paid his staff wages.”
More than 4,000 Kingfisher Airlines employees went without pay for seven months before they revolted and grounded the carrier in October 2012.
The staff in the Tewin Stores village shop said Mallya probably has staff to do his shopping and they had not met the billionaire either. But, they said, Mallya had rather incongruously attended a charity barn dance in nearby Bull’s Green.
They pointed to a small but welcome act of generosity from the glamorous alleged fraudster last year. When a hit-and-run driver wiped out the village fir tree, which doubled as Tewin’s Christmas tree, the man once estimated by Forbes magazine to have been worth $1.6bn dug deep and donated a replacement.
Source link The Guardian