Billionaire coffee tycoon V G Siddhartha, who went missing since Monday, is dead and his body was recovered from the banks of the Nethravathi river near Mangaluru in Karnataka on Wednesday.
Cafe Coffee Day founder VG Siddhartha, who was missing since 6 pm on July 29, said he ‘failed as an entrepreneur’ in a letter to board and employees.
“I sincerely request each of you to be strong and to continue running these businesses with a new management,” Siddhartha said in a letter dated July 27.
Siddartha said he was under ‘tremendous pressure’ from private equity partners to buyback their shares, a transaction he had partially undertaken after borrowing money from a friend.
59-year-old Siddhartha, son-in-law of BJP leader and former External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, was cremated in a sombre atmosphere after hundreds of people paid a tearful homage to the ‘Coffee King” at his Chetanahali estate in his ancestral village in Chikkamagaluru where hundreds of people gathered to pay their last respects.
Siddhartha, whose chain of cafes helped make coffee a lifestyle beverage, is survived by his wife Malavika and two sons,Amartya and Ishaan.
A police official said “everything” points to suicide, but nothing can be ruled out until the investigation is over.
Siddhartha’s body was found by local fishermen and patrolling policemen, two days after he went missing under mysterious circumstances.
His body was identified by his friends, said Dakshina Kannada district Deputy Commissioner Sasikanth Senthil.
After the post-mortem at Wenlock Hospital in Mangaluru, the body was taken to Chikkamagaluru.
Amartya lit the funeral pyre after the last rites were performed according to the traditions of the Vokkaliga community from which Siddhartha hailed.
The atmosphere turned sombre as Amartya lit the pyre. The youth broke down several times while performing the rituals. Krishna, 87 and his wife Prema too fought hard to control their emotions.
A large number of people from within the coffee estate and neighbouring villages, whom Siddhartha had helped come up in life, thronged to pay their homage.
Before Chethanahalli, the body was kept at Chikkamagaluru for people to pay their last respects.
Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa, his predecessor H D Kumaraswamy and several political leaders attended the funeral.
The remains of Siddhartha was traced after 36 hours of an intensive search operation with a letter allegedly written by him to the Board of Directors and employees of his company Coffee Day Enterprises, showing he was struggling with financial problems due to debt, taxes and share buy backs.
The search involved multiple agencies, which scoured the waters under a bridge across Nethravathi, where Siddhartha, the founder of India’s largest coffee chain Cafe Coffee Day, was reportedly last seen on Monday night, officials said.
Borrowing Rs five lakh from his father to pursue his dreams, Siddhartha, known for being shy and self-effacing, went on to become “coffee king”, creating jobs for thousands of youth instead of joining the family business.
The family owned over 350 acres of coffee estate and had been in the business for over 140 years.
A senior police official told PTI, “Investigation is going on. Prima facie every thing points out to that (suicide) only. But we still we can’t rule out anything. We will have to finish the investigation”.
“We have found the body….. I have no words to comfort the family,” Yediyurappa said in Bengaluru.
“He had more assets than liabilities,” Yediyurappa added.
Senthil said the body was spotted by local fishermen and police, who had been patrolling the banks of the river.
The authorities predicted the probable location where the body could be traced using a “model” developed by Hyderabad based Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), which makes predictions based on current, low and high tide among other parameters, he said.
A political war also broke out over Siddhartha’s allegation of harassment by the Income Tax Department, as the Congress accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of betraying the people who voted for an independent and hassle-free economy.
“There is an old notion of government has no business in business and Modi in his pre 2014 election campaign made a big deal about it. Today he has absolutely betrayed the people who voted for him to see a robust, independent, hassle free economy,” Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi said on Twitter.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said Siddhartha’s death reflected a “worrying trend”.
“Ease of Doing Business” under BJP translates into “Ease of Ending Business”. The #VGSiddhartha tragedy reflects the worst of a broader, deeply worrying trend,” he tweeted.
Reacting to Siddhartha’s death, the Karnataka Congress said on Twitter, “Result of harassment by IT officials and decline of India’s entrepreneurial position turning virulent by the day, with Tax Terror & collapse of economy.”
Former Karnataka Chief Minister and senior Congress leader Siddaramaiah said Siddhartha’s death is both “disturbing and mysterious”.
“The reasons and the invisible hands that ended his life in this tragic way should be unearthed through impartial & fair investigation”, Siddaramaiah said, referring to a letter purportedly written by Siddhartha, where he alleged harassment by the Income Tax department.
He said the letter supposed to have been written by Siddhartha discussed “tax terrorism”, which is the “ugly face of politically motivated institutions”.
In his letter, allegedly written to the Board of Directors and employees of Coffee Day Enterprises, Siddhartha complained of “a lot of harassment” from the previous DG Income Tax.
The IT department refuted the charges and said it had acted according to the provisions of the Income Tax Act.
Siddhartha went missing on Monday night near Ullal bridge on Nethravathi river.
The businessman left Bengaluru for Sakleshpur in Hassan district in an SUV on Monday afternoon. On the way, he asked his driver to go towards Mangaluru, police said.
He got off the vehicle and told his driver to wait for him at the end of the bridge, saying he was going for a walk.
On Tuesday, a fisherman claimed he saw someone jumping off the bridge.
The letter purportedly written by Siddhartha, whose authenticity could not be independently verified, also showed he was under “tremendous pressure” from lenders.
“I have failed as an entrepreneur,” he said in the alleged letter. Coffee Day Enterprises on Wednesday named independent director S V Ranganath as the interim chairman of the company to replace Siddhartha.
The company board, wherein Siddhartha’s wife Malavika Hegde is also a director, met on Wednesday to put in place a working structure of the company.
The board appointed “S V Ranganath as the interim chairman of the board” and “Nitin Bagmane as an interim chief operating officer (COO) of the company,” Coffee Day Enterprises, which runs India’s biggest coffee chain CCD, said in a regulatory filing.
It also constituted an executive committee comprising Ranganath, COO Nitin Bagmane and CFO R Ram Mohan “to exercise the powers previously vested with the Chief Executive Officer of the company and the Administrative Committee constituted by the Board in 2015.