Business tycoon Vijay Mallya has claimed in London that he is in "forced exile" from India. The indebted owner of collapsed Kingfisher Airlines has been making national headlines in India after leaving the country amid accusations that he owes state banks there £900m ($1.3bn) in debt.
Mallya spoke to the Financial Times in his first official interview since leaving India in March. He hit out at accusations that he was living in luxury while failing to repay debts to India's banks, insisting there was no need for him to adjust his lifestyle as a result of the collapse of Kingfisher.
Mallya said: "One of the businesses I was involved in failed, sadly. There were other businesses that still exist, which are hugely successful. Should I, therefore, be a hypocrite? Because one of these businesses failed, should I live my life differently? It is what it is. I am not a hypocrite."
The backlash began last December when Mallya held a two-day party for his 60<sup>th birthday at a beachside villa in Goa, even flying in Enrique Iglesias to perform for his guests. At the time, central bank governor, Raghuram Rajan, hinted that Mallya was sending the wrong message and he should be cutting down his expenses while in debt.
Mallya hit back at the accusations: "People are saying we shouldn't have this lifestyle, I shouldn't have my birthday party. But what did I spend on my birthday party? What was spent on it wouldn't even move the needle."
Mallya's comments to the British newspaper come days after he resigned from his parliamentary seat in India, following a decision by Indian authorities to revoke his diplomatic passport. India has also asked the UK to deport the businessman and an Indian court has issued a warrant for his arrest as Mallya allegedly failed to appear before financial investigators.
During his interview with the Financial Times, Mallya said: "The media – the electronic media, in particular – has made such a big show of me that I guess all constituents in government needed to then respond by being seen to do something. Television channels are saying I stole £900m and ran away from India. How ridiculous can that be!"
Days after Mallya left India, the man nicknamed "King of Good Times" for his extravagant lifestyle took to Twitter to defend himself, insisting that he had not fled the country. Instead, he said he was an "international businessman" and "travels frequently". He promised to "comply with the law of the land" but urged that there be "no trial by media".
Many in India have reacted angrily to Mallya's actions, with people questioning how he slipped out of the country while in debt. The interview with the Financial Times took place in a hotel in Mayfair, London, confirming suspicions that he is now in the UK.