LONDON — Vijay Mallya insisted he was innocent of money-laundering accusations Dec. 4 after the evacuation of a London court building forced him to face a swarm of journalists he had sought to avoid.
The start of Mallya’s extradition hearing was delayed by 70 minutes because of the emergency evacuation at Westminster Magistrates Court, leaving the 61-year-old businessman and former politician to mingle with the media outside.
Television crews from India pursued him until he briefly proclaimed he had done nothing wrong.
“The allegations are baseless, unfounded, deliberate, and you will see our submissions in court,” Mallya said.
Reporters kept circling him on the sidewalk.
“The answer will be given to the judge. You think you are going to conduct a trial by media?” he asked.
Once the court’s emergency alarm stopped, lawyers for the Indian government started presenting a complex case against Mallya in support of the extradition request.
Mark Summers, presenting India’s case on behalf of Indian prosecutors, described Mallya’s attempt to prop up his ailing Kingfisher Airlines with bank loans in 2009 despite the carrier’s dire financial straits.
“It was an airline in trouble at this stage, seeking financial assistance from a large number of banks and a large amount of money,” Summers said.
Summers indicated the government plans to show that loans totaling hundreds of millions of dollars were misused. Indian officials have said Mallya is deeply in debt.
Kingfisher Airlines eventually defaulted on the loans. Summers said there were reasons to believe that was Mallya’s intent all along.
“His company was in intensive care. The market was in intensive care. It was heading in only one direction,” Summers said. “The defendant had a choice: Either you take those losses on yourself and impinge on your own lifestyle, or you try and palm it off on a bank.”
Mallya, wearing a well-tailored suit and freshly barbered hair, sat impassively in the dock as the case against him was presented. His lawyer asked the judge to allow the entrepreneur to be seated inside the courtroom instead of the glass-enclosed dock, but the request was denied.
Scotland Yard’s extradition unit arrested Mallya in response to a request from the Indian government.
The extradition hearing is expected to take roughly two weeks and lead to a verdict on whether Mallya will be sent back to India or allowed to remain in Britain.
The hearing will be widely followed in India, where Mallya is known for his flashy lifestyle and lavish parties attended by fashion models and Bollywood stars.
Mallya was once hailed as India’s version of British entrepreneur Richard Branson for his investments in a liquor company, an airline, a Formula One team and an Indian Premier League cricket club.
The 61-year-old was also a politician for six years before resigning from the upper house of India’s parliament last year, a day before an ethics committee was set to recommend his expulsion.
Mallya launched Kingfisher Airlines in 2005 and the carrier set new standards for quality and service, forcing competing airlines to improve. But it ran into trouble as it expanded. The Indian government suspended the airline’s license in 2012 after it failed to pay pilots and engineers for months.
That triggered the collapse of several more of Mallya’s businesses. He left India last year after a group of banks demanded he pay back more than $1 billion in loans extended to his airline.
He has been living in Britain since March 2016 and has refused to return to India to face trial in the Kingfisher Airlines case. India canceled his passport and began an extradition process.
In May, India’s Supreme Court ruled Mallya had disobeyed its order barring him from transferring $40 million to his children.
Gurcharan Das, a New Delhi author and former chief executive of Procter & Gamble India, said Mallya was an excellent salesman who built a great brand that included one of the nation’s favorite beers and a high-performing airline.
He said that Mallya, like many others, tried to expand too quickly, buying a no-frills airline that wasn’t a good fit with his company. He said Mallya’s political connections have made him a national symbol of the perils of crony capitalism.
“I see it as a bit of a tragedy. He is somebody who had quite outstanding talents,” Das said. “What hurt him was his flamboyant lifestyle. He didn’t bother to hide it. He flaunted it. That, too, in the public imagination has made him a villain.”
He said Mallya kept up to a dozen homes with full staff as well as buying private jets and yachts, all in a poor country where most rich people tend to hide their wealth.
But Das said Mallya’s biggest mistake was to leave India.
“He should have just toughed it out here,” Das said. “There are a number of other businessmen who owe far more money to the banks than he does. He just got scared and skipped out.”
Mallya has argued that Britain has long been a second home for him.
India’s government this month rejected Mallya’s argument that he wouldn’t be safe in an Indian jail if he was sent back, and was planning to tell that to the London court, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.
The tycoon will have the right to a further appeal if he loses his bid to remain in the United Kingdom.
Nick Perry reported from New Delhi.