Bengaluru: Almost 400 feet from the ground, businessman Vijay Mallya’s mansion in the sky in Bengaluru is getting ready. The mansion-style penthouse is mounted on a giant cantilever slab on the top of Kingfisher Towers—residences at UB City, which is being built on a 4.5-acre land parcel that once housed his ancestral home.
Sprawled over 40,000 sq. ft across two levels (34th and 35th) with a helipad on the top, the penthouse is surrounded by an open deck that offers a 360-degree viewing platform. There’s an infinity pool to boot.
The penthouse is part of a skyscraper, but it is as exclusive as a private villa with its two elevators; it shares nothing with the rest of the residences.
The $20-million (that’s the rough value of the penthouse) question: will Mallya, a fugitive from justice who left for the UK in March 2016 as lenders and investigating agencies closed in on him, ever get to live in his white house in the sky?
The skyscraper, which will be the fanciest address in the city once ready, is being developed as an extension of UB City, the luxury retail and office space built under a joint development agreement between United Breweries Holdings Ltd (UBHL) and Prestige Estates Projects Ltd. UBHL owns 55% and the developer 45%.
Prestige Estates, which is also constructing the building, has 42 apartments—8,000 sq. ft each with four bedrooms and five car parks—of which it has sold 34 and kept the remaining eight to sell once the building is fully done. The last sale was for around Rs.25 crore.
UBHL, which has the penthouse and 39 of the apartments, sold and issued allotment letters for seven, for a little over Rs150 crore, according to the company’s 2016 annual report. The sales were probably completed in 2012 and 2013. Since 2014, UBHL has been barred from selling the flats.
Prestige has sold some of the apartments as shells while some of them have their interiors designed by its interior design firm Morph Design Co.
“It was a challenge to construct the mansion on a huge cantilever at that height, but we have ensured we build it exactly the way it was conceived. It’s a complex structure and the finishing work is going on,” said Prestige Estates’ chairman Irfan Razack.
“We will finish the project as per contract and hand it over,” Razack said.
In January, the debt recovery tribunal in Bengaluru ruled in favour of State Bank of India (SBI) and allowed it to start the process of recovering the Rs6,203.35 crore it is owed by Mallya’s companies. Mallya, chairman of UBHL, and his companies Kingfisher Airlines, UBHL and Kingfisher Finvest India Ltd are liable to pay the money which, along with interest, adds up to more than Rs9,000 crore. In its application, Kingfisher Towers is listed under other known assets of UBHL, which means it (the apartments owned by the firm) can be sold by the recovery officer to pay the dues of the bank.
In September 2016, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) attached Rs6,630 crore worth of properties belonging to Mallya in the ongoing money laundering probe that included flats in Kingfisher Tower, Bangalore (Rs565 crore), along with the Mandwa Farm House, Alibaug (Rs25 crore), and shares of UBHL and United Spirits Ltd.
Indeed, it isn’t inconceivable that the penthouse could soon be up for sale.
“Only the external structure of the penthouse is being constructed. The interiors will remain pending since there isn’t any clarity on the matter on who the claimant is,” said a person familiar with the development who didn’t want to be named.
When contacted, a UB spokesperson declined to comment.
While the developer Prestige is gearing up to finish the project and hand over the homes to the respective buyers by this year-end, uncertainty clouds the fate of UBHL’s share of apartments and, of course, Mallya’s mansion.
“Under the money laundering Act, an order of conviction will result in confiscation of property by the government,” said S.S. Naganand, senior counsel appearing for the lenders consortium.
“If money laundering is not proven, the debt remains and what will happen to this property is they (banks) will try to recover dues. There will be an attempt to sell off and recover dues and any sale proceedings will be realized and appropriated towards his dues. If after this anything remains, it will be given to him,” Naganand added.
Mallya would have liked to keep the penthouse.
“The mansion is what Mallya always wanted. His family home on the same plot of land was like a British colonial bungalow and he wanted to replicate that (in the penthouse),” said a prominent architect, who didn’t want to be named.