WILFUL DEFAULTER: Force India's future might be at stake since team boss Vijay Mallya has been tagged as a 'wilful defaulter'. Image: AFP
London - India's government has revoked embattled former airline boss Vijay Mallya's passport, after he failed to appear before investigators over a loan probe, the foreign ministry said Sunday.
Mallya, a part-owner of the Force India Formula 1 team who used to run a liquor empire and Kingfisher Airlines, left India on March 2 despite calls for his arrest and is believed to be in Britain.
The 60-year-old, once dubbed the "King of Good Times", had his diplomatic passport suspended earlier this month after he failed to appear before India's financial crimes agency in connection with the loan case.
Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Vikas Swarup said the decision to pull the passport was taken after Mallya's unsatisfactory reply to three notices served by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) agency.
Swarup said: "After having considered replies by Vijay Mallya, MEA revokes his passport under Passports Act."
The ED is looking into the finances of Kingfisher Airlines, which ceased operating in 2012 leaving millions of dollars in unpaid bills, including of salaries of workers.
An Indian courtlast week issued an arrest warrant for Mallya after he failed to appear for questioning at the ED, which is seeking his extradition from Britain.
The agency's investigation relates to loans which the state-run IDBI bank made to Kingfisher Airlines, despite allegedly knowing it was suffering financial troubles, leading the bank to sustain huge losses.
Mallya inherited United Breweries Group (UBG) from his father at the age of 28 and turned it into one of the world's largest spirit makers, hosting extravagant yacht parties with Bollywood stars and politicians along the way.
Owes over $1-billion in unpaid loans
His profile rose further when he acquired a stake in the Force India F1 team and ownership of the Royal Challengers Bangalore cricket team.
The Enforcement Directorate has reportedly accused him of siphoning off money from Kingfisher to buy property abroad, a claim the company denies.
Separately, he is being chased by a group of mostly state-run banks over $1.34-billion in unpaid loans made to the airline.
Earlier this month the banks rejected his offer to repay $600 million and told the Supreme Court they wanted him to return to India so they could negotiate with him personally over the total owed.
His massive debt has become a symbol of Indian banks' vast volume of bad loans, those already in default or close to it, which are seen as a threat to financial stability in Asia's third largest economy.
Critics say the government has not done enough to tackle the issue of wealthy individuals such as Mallya, who obtain huge loans which they later fail to repay.
The businessman, who is also a member of India's parliament, has denied absconding and has criticised the media for what he has called a "witch hunt".