The decomposed body of VG Siddhartha, founder of India's largest Coffee chain Cafe Coffee Day and son-in-law of former union minister SM Krishna, was found on Wednesday morning on the banks of Netravati River near Hoige Bazaar in Mangaluru. Siddhartha went missing mysteriously since Monday night en route to the coastal Mangaluru city in Karnataka. His body was recovered after 36 hours of massive search operation.
Teams of National Disaster Response Force, Coast Guard, Home Guard, fire services and coastal police were involved in massive search operation across the swollen Nethravathi river to trace the coffee tycoon. The body had washed ashore near Ullal and was fished out by local fishermen.
"The body was floating near Hoige Bazaar at 6:30 am. It was brought to the shore by locals and policemen. It has been shifted to Mangalore’s Wenlock hospital for post-mortem," Sandeep Patil, Police Commissioner of Mangalore, said.
Siddhartha had left from Bengaluru to Sakleshpur in Hassan district in a car on Monday afternoon, but on the way had asked his driver to go towards Mangaluru, the police said.
On reaching the bridge, he alighted from the car and told his driver that he was going for a walk.
"He (Siddhartha) asked the driver to wait till his arrival. When he did not return even after two hours, the driver approached the police and lodged a missing complaint," Deputy Commissioner of Dakshina Kannada district Senthil Sasikant Senthil was quoted as saying by a news agency.
Meanwhile, a letter purportedly written by him to the Board of Directors and employees of Coffee Day Enterprises started doing the round on the internet. In the letter, whose authenticity could not be independently verified, Siddhartha said, "I have failed as an entrepreneur."
"I am very very sorry to let down all the people who had put their trust in me. I have failed as an entrepreneur. 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 completed six months ago by borrowing a large sum of money from a friend. Tremendous pressure from other lenders led to me succumbing to the situation," he added.
"I failed to create the right profitable business model despite my best efforts. Faced financial pressure from lenders, borrowed money. I never intended to cheat anyone," Siddhartha, the son-in-law of former Karnataka chief minister S M Krishna, added.
Taking responsibility for all the mistakes, he made a request to continue running the business with new management.
"Every financial transaction is my responsibility. My team, auditors and senior management are totally unaware of all my transactions. The law should hold me and only me accountable, as I have withheld this information from everybody including my family. My intention was never to cheat or mislead anybody. I have failed as an entrepreneur," he said.
He also that there was a lot of harassment from the previous DG of the Income Tax Department 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 revised returns have been filed by us (sic)”.
However, the IT department in Bengaluru referred to the note said to be written by Siddharha mentioning about the attachment of Coffee Day shares by it and said "the authenticity of the note is not known and the signature does not tally with the signature as available in his annual reports."
The department sources in New Delhi denied charges of harassment during their probe against Siddhartha.
The sources said the provisional attachment of shares was made by the IT department to protect the "interests of revenue" in cases of large tax evasion and the action was based on "credible evidence" gathered in the search or raid action undertaken against the Bengaluru-based group in 2017.
The sources said Siddhartha fetched Rs 3,200 crore from the sale of Mindtree shares, but has paid only Rs 46 crore out of the total Rs 300 crore minimum alternate tax (MAT) payable on the deal.
Siddhartha had sold his 20 per cent equity stake in consultancy firm Mindtree to engineering and construction company Larsen & Toubro Ltd in a block deal for about Rs. 3,200 crore in March this year.
He launched the first Cafe Coffee Day outlet in Bengaluru in 1996 when the city was on the cusp of transforming into an IT hub and the chain currently has over 1,700 outlets across India and abroad.
Senior Congress leader DK Shivakumar said he found the disappearance of Siddhartha "utterly fishy" and sought an investigation into it.
He said the letter purportedly written by Siddhartha, "which is circulating", is dated July 27 (Saturday) and he received a call from him on Sunday asking if they could meet.
"It's unbelievable that a courageous man like him would resort to this," Shivakumar tweeted.
He said he has known closely Siddhartha and his family members for decades.
"However, I find this (the disappearance) utterly fishy and urge that a thorough investigation be conducted into this matter," he said.
With PTI Inputs