Indian authorities have launched a massive search for the founder of the popular chain Café Coffee Day who went missing on Monday evening after lamenting his financial troubles.
Police said VG Siddhartha, the 60-year-old coffee tycoon, was last seen walking across a bridge in India’s southern coastal state of Karnataka.
Siddhartha reportedly faced tax problems in 2017 that resulted in authorities raiding his company offices in several Indian cities. He was reportedly discussing selling a significant stake in his business to Coca-Cola.
Before he went missing on Monday, Times of India reported that he sent a letter to his shareholders that said:
I am very sorry to let down all the people that put their trust in me. I fought for a long time but today I have given 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 sums of money from a friend. Tremendous pressure from other lenders led to me succumbing to the situation.
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.
The Indian Coast Guard has deployed a ship and three diving teams to help police in the search for the missing businessman.
On Tuesday, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency reported that Siddhartha’s disappearance has triggered a massive search:
Police in India are searching for one of the country’s richest men, the coffee tycoon VG Siddhartha, as fears grow for his safety. … Police divers, assisted by local fishermen, searched the Nethravathi River near Mangaluru while senior Karnataka politicians flocked to the tycoon’s home.
Siddhartha set up the Cafe Coffee Day chain in 1996 and quickly became one of the world’s biggest coffee traders. He also owns Asia’s largest coffee plantation.
Siddhartha’s family reportedly traces its involvement in the coffee industry to more than 130 years ago.
Authorities learned of his disappearance from his chauffeur. NDTV reported on Tuesday:
In his statement to the police, Mr. Siddhartha’s driver Basavaraj Patil said they were going to Sakleshpur from Bengaluru in a Toyota Innova – a 220-km drive – when the businessman asked him to turn towards Mangaluru.
As they approached a bridge near Mangaluru, the businessman asked the driver to stop the car and got down from the vehicle. Mr. Patil, in the statement, said Mr. Siddhartha asked him to drive towards the other end of the bridge and wait there.
“He said he will walk and come … At 8 p.m. (an hour later) I called him but his phone was (switched) off. Then I called his son and he said he’ll call him too. Later I filed a complaint,” Siddhartha’s driver of three years noted.