The founder of Cafe Coffee Day, India’s biggest coffee chain, V G Siddhartha has been reported missing since Monday night, last seen by his driver near a bridge over the Nethravathi river in Mangaluru.
Hours before his disappearance was reported, Siddhartha called his personal staff at the company head office in Bengaluru and informed them about a letter to be disseminated. The purported letter referred to the “tremendous pressure” he was under from lenders and “harassment” from Income Tax officials. And that he was “very sorry to let down all the people that put their trust in me”.
The 60-year-old son-in-law of former Karnataka Chief Minister S M Krishna, considered among the most successful modern-day businessmen from the state with investments in the IT sector, real estate, coffee cultivation and exports and hospitality, disappeared following a random drive to Mangaluru with his driver, Basavaraj Patil (27).
Teams of National Disaster Response Force, Coast Guard, Home Guard, fire services and coastal police then scoured the swollen Nethravathi river, but found no trace of him.
Read | Who is VG Siddhartha?
In a statement to the Mangaluru police Tuesday, Patil recounted the events of the day where Siddhartha briefly visited his CCD office in the morning around 8 am and returned home at 11 am and instructed the driver to prepare for a drive to the businessman’s home in Sakleshpur near Hassan.
When they reached Sakleshpur, Patil was instructed to drive towards Mangaluru to a property that Siddhartha was reportedly developing for his hospitality business. “When we entered a large bridge across the river, he decided to get off the car and asked me to wait across the bridge for him,” said Patil.
“He crossed the road and began walking back in the direction of Mangaluru city. Around 8 pm, when he did not return to the car, I tried calling him on his mobile but it was switched off.”
The Karnataka police found that the last cell location for one of his phones was in the Jeppu area of Mangaluru across the bridge where the entrepreneur was last seen. “The cell location may be for the general area around the river and not specifically Jeppu,” sources said.
Police sources said that the July 27 letter that Siddhartha left behind and final conversations he had with a few staff members suggested he was not his usual self. “He told one staff member to look after the interests of the firm after clearing an outstanding loan. He seemed emotional. This was a bit out of character for the businessman,” sources said.
“Too many things began piling up one after the other. His father has been unwell for many days. There was a liquidity crunch due to issues with the IT department. He had been holding fort for long but too many things happened at the same time for him to withstand. He was forced to liquidate his stake in Mindtree,” said a close business associate.
“He had instructed his secretary to release the mail he had prepared earlier to a group of around 200 employees on Tuesday,” said the close associate.
“There was some talk of progress in a Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 crore deal for Coca Cola to buy CCD which he had been talking about,” another associate said.
In the letter, Siddhartha said: “After 37 years with strong commitment to hard work having directly created 30,000 jobs in our companies and their subsidiaries, as well as 20,000 jobs in technology company where I have been a large shareholder since its founding, I have failed to create the right profitable business model despite my efforts.”
“I fought for a long time but today I gave up as I could not take any more pressure from one of the private equity partners forcing me to buy back shares, a transaction I had partially completed six months ago by borrowing a large sum of money from a friend.”
He stated that “there was a lot of harassment from the previous DG Income Tax in the form of attaching our shares on two separate occasions to block our Mindtree deal and then taking position of our Coffee Day shares although the revised returns have been filed by us. This was very unfair and has lead to a serious liquidity crunch”.
The CCD board, in a statement, said: “The board also reviewed a copy of the letter purportedly signed by Mr. V. G. Siddhartha dated July 27, 2019, and has shared a copy of the letter with relevant authorities. The board has also sought the assistance of local and state authorities, who are doing their utmost, and relevant officers of the Company are cooperating with the authorities as requested.”
Reacting to his allegations, the Income Tax department stated that it “acted as per provisions of the Income Tax Act”.
“The investigation in the case of Sri V G Siddhartha and Cafe Coffee Day arose from the search in the case of a prominent political leader of Karnataka (Congress leader D K Shivakumar). It is based on the unearthing of crucial evidence of financial transactions done by CCD in a concealed manner,” the IT department stated in a note Tuesday.
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