Force India co-owner Vijay Mallya is facing the closure of his airline Kingfisher after creditor banks decided to call in loans, and could be forced to sell off personal items in a bid to meet the cost of serious debts.
No fewer than 17 Indian banks have decided that enough is enough and, with debts rising to a current tally of around $1.3bn but Mallya refusing to use his personal fortune to address the situation, the end could be nigh for the airline, which has not operated since last October. Aviation authorities are now refusing to renew is licence, concerned that can no longer provide a safe and viable service.
Kingfisher's problems were exacerbated by labour unrest resulting from the non-payment of salaries, while fees due to oil companies and airport authorities also lapsed. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which oversees the world's commercial airlines, has informed Mallya that it will consider terminating its membership if it fails to return to full operation.
"We have decided to start recovery process on the loans to Kingfisher," State Bank of India' Shyamal Acharya confirmed, "Banks have already given Mallya enough time to repay."
While Mallya has steadfastly refused to bail the company out from his own personal wealth, reports suggest that assets amassed with his fortune may have to be used as collateral when it comes to settling the debts. The not inconsiderable sum he raised from selling part of his United Spirits operation was not diverted into helping Kingfisher, and it is suggested that this is what forced the banks to change tack and look at ways of getting their money back.
The Indian entrepreneur, who also has other business interests in areas such as brewing and cricket, is well known for the yachts he uses to entertain guests at events such as the Monaco Grand Prix, but also has a large collection of classic cars and several properties, which, according to the Financial Times
newspaper, could be sold off to satisfy the banks. The Force India team is unlikely to be included in that list, with members of its senior management team insisting that it is 'ring-fenced' from Mallya's other businesses.
“It doesn't affect the F1 team, as there is a disconnect between what happens in Vijay's business and what Vijay is doing on the F1 team,” deputy team principal Bob Fernley told BBC
commentator James Allen at the Force India launch, “It doesn't matter what happens there. Whether Kingfisher or United Spirits is doing well or not doesn't affect the team, [but] it's very difficult for us to get that message across.
“We get a story every three or four months where we are about to go bankrupt, or someone is selling us or whatever and we've had that for five years - but we are still here.”