On Vijay Mallya and committing gross acts of journalism

Business hero Vijay Mallya broke his dignified silence to speak to the FT.

As I write, Kingfisher airlines and beer boss, or rather ex boss, Vijay Mallya, is holed up in his ugly oversized Barratt home just around the corner from me here in North London; indeed so close that I can almost smell his distinctive scent of privilege, greed and egomania – traits characterised by a better writer than me as ‘sociopathic’.

India, which is owed 9000 crore rupees (nearly a billion pounds sterling, or £935,394,495 to be precise) by that genius of business – who is certainly not a corrupt gangster and thief despite what it might say in the arrest warrants – has tried to persuade the UK to deport Mallya back to his home country from whence he scarpered or made himself scarce on March 2, one whole day before his creditors were able to have his passport impounded.

But the UK demurred: ‘Sorry old chaps, but this Vijay fellow hasn’t actually committed any crimes on British soil so we’re afraid our hands are tied. Love to help if we could and all that. You might try extraditing him. We probably wouldn’t actually raise an objection if you went that route. Probably …’

Yesterday the Indian government, in despair at Britain’s political and diplomatic obtuseness, finally approached Interpol with a request for a Red Corner Notice (or RCN – read the details here). Specifically, the RCN is in respect of a money laundering charge to do with a 900 crore loan. That of course is just a tiny fraction of the vast amount of money Mallya has spirited out of the Indian economy, most of which is owed directly to its poor citizens via the Reserve Bank of India, which under Congress (of course) threw cash at him for years. But then they got Al Capone on taxes not murder in the end, so hey-ho and good luck with it.

During the years when Mallya was showered with free money – sorry, used his entrepreneurial talents to make profits (except he never once did; he inherited his businesses before running them into the ground) – he was a smirking, lazy member of India’s upper house, the Rajya Sabha, similar to the US Senate or the UK’s House of Lords. And guess which party he mostly favoured? (Clue: he is known as a ‘Congress Baby’.) In a sense Mallya is figurative of the state of India under the Congress-led UPA, the United Progressive Alliance, from 2004 to 2014: a wasteful and corrupt disaster.

But Mallya is what Mallya is: shiny, sleek and impervious to criticism. Doubtless in his own mind he is a victim of circumstance and prejudice or whatever else he concocts to justify himself. Mallya, being an essentially worthless entity, despite the vast amount of wealth he is desperately clinging to, is not the subject of this post. Instead I come to pay homage and respect to that great organ of the press, the Financial Times, and especially its honest and courageous reporters, who once again have proved how they love fearlessly to ‘speak truth to power’ as journalists never tire of telling us they do.

Anyway, the businessman finally deigned to break his hurt silence and grant an interview to a grateful and awaiting press. This happened to be in the person of the FT’s ‘Delhi correspondent’ and former ‘Feature Writer of the Year’ at the WorkWorlds Media Awards, Amy Kazmin. I feel that Mallya must have requested her specifically – it’s the only thing that makes sense. His taste is, after all, impeccable, as we know from his spangly jackets and pony tail, so dignified on a middle-aged man.

We were informed that this was a four-hour-long interview, therefore definitive and utterly thorough. In case any doubt be left over, we were further assured that the interview was conducted not only in London, but in ‘London’s Mayfair’, which always confers an extra dollop of sheer class and hushed-hotel-foyer glamour to proceedings.

Breathless, elegant Mayfair makes the fact that some of Mallya’s desperate ex-employees have committed suicide after not being paid for years fade into utter insignificance. There is no place for such ugliness and niggling pettiness in these salubrious surroundings.

Instead, bravely and courageously, we are presented with ‘A snapshot of defiance and insouciance in the face of adversity’. That, of course, is Kazmin’s fearlessly critical upsum of his majesty Mr Mallya.

Marvel as Kazmin sympathises with the troubled but caring entrepreneur (we imagine his furrowed brow) over the ‘public frenzy whipped up against him’ in India – probably by that nasty Modi fellow, which might be why Kazmin is also keen to let us know how brave Mallya looks when he ‘steadfastly’ refuses to criticise his prime ministerial tormentor even though, goodness knows, he has enough justification. ‘He rejects the idea that Mr Modi, an austere figure, was behind the decision to issue his arrest warrant and revoke his passport,’ reports the searingly honest Kazmin. ‘Austere’ is an interesting word. A brave, honest word. Modi sounds like a real meanie to me. Boo!

Likewise, Kazmin puts on modest display her quite remarkable financial acumen by not questioning at all Mallya’s interesting arithmetic concerning what he owes to people. The amount shrinks before our very eyes as Mallya deducts elements such as interest (and even principal). Nobody else on the planet believes him, certainly not courts and creditors, but damn it, Amy throws caution to the winds and reports exactly what Mallya asserts, such is her belief in his probity.

It brings tears to one’s eyes, and not only tears of laughter but also tears of despair at the state of the world, or at least the FT.

Bravely, and bravely unquestioned by our intrepid reporter, Mallya professes his innocence to the world: ‘I am absolutely not guilty of any of these preposterous charges of diverting funds from Kingfisher, buying properties or stuff like that.’

Stuff like that. It almost sounds that if poor Vijay is guilty of anything it must be sheer, trusting naivety in accepting money and ‘stuff’ from all these nasty people who never warned him he might have to pay it back or use it for purposes other than pouring champagne over himself for a whole decade.

The interview is, in short, priceless; or at least as valuable to the world as the man it so honestly and fearlessly portrays. Triumph after triumph of journalistic insight and judgement bejewel Ms Kazmin’s immortal piece, leading up to the final, sparkling conclusion concerning the pudgy fugitive’s present situation:

He remains an Indian patriot, he insists, who is ‘proud to fly the Indian flag’, but as the outcry around him continues, he is more than happy to stay safe in the UK.

Simply brilliant! Although in the circumstances ‘fly’ might not be the best verb to use about Mr Kingfisher Airlines.

Of course there remain some cynical kill-joys out there who assert that to make a successful career in finance, one has only to read the FT and then do the exact opposite of what it recommends. Naturally I disagree strongly with them: that’s what you should do with The Economist. In certain cases, granted, they both get things slightly wrong, such as predicting doom for the UK if it didn’t join the euro, and perhaps now predicting doom for the UK if it leaves the EU – oh and about ten billion other things too trivial to get into here; but everyday things concerning money and business. One ever-so-rare example: they both went full-bore on ordering India that whatever it did, it should never, ever vote Narendra Modi for PM. The result would be an instant genocide for the country’s Muslims, and economic disaster for India. For god’s sake, vote for Congress and the boy genius Rahul Gandhi, or you are doomed!

How right they were. Again.

Anyway, that sort of searing honesty and faultless analysis is clearly where Kazmin comes in. It’s her special, honed talent. Also Lionel Barber, who apparently chaperoned her – whether to keep her safe or Mallya safe I couldn’t guess. I am still surprised, though, that Lionel was so fearless as to let his name appear next to such a coruscating and bravely penetrating interview article.

Some cynics and kill-joys might also argue, perversely, that Kazmin’s piece is an example of a fully bought-and-paid-for Congress hack indulging in some professional-standard rump licking. Naturally, I would strongly disagree.

However, if what I regard as the lustrous wonder of Kazmin’s hard-hitting technique and prose is simply too much for you, you might try some actual journalism and find out the facts about Mallya. I recommend here, here, and above all and especially here.

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