MANGALURU/BENGALURU: Cafe Coffee Day founder VG Siddhartha, who is the son-in-law of former Karnataka Chief Minister SM Krishna, was found dead this morning, 36 hours after he went missing from a bridge near Mangaluru in Karnataka. A massive search operation involving multiple agencies was on since Monday evening, when Mr Siddhartha went missing. The body had washed ashore the Netravati river near Ullal in Mangaluru and was found by fishermen at around 6:30 this morning.
“Two fishermen found Siddhartha’s body early this morning about 500 metres away from the road bridge from where he is alleged to have jumped into the river on Monday night,” Mangaluru Police Commissioner Sandeep Patil told reporters.
“Friends and relatives have confirmed that the body is of VG Siddhartha,” Mangaluru lawmaker and former minister UT Khader was quoted as saying by news agency ANI. The body has been moved to a hospital in Mangaluru. The police said his body will be handed over to the family after legal formalities are completed.
The Mangaluru police chief said an investigation was underway to determine whether Mr Siddhartha took his own life.
Political leaders condoled the death of the coffee tycoon. “I am deeply shocked and hurt by the demise of former chief minister S M Krishna’s son-in-law and Cafe Coffee Day founder Siddhartha. May God give strength to his family and may his soul rest in piece. Om shanti,” Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa tweeted in Kannada.
VG Siddhartha, the founder of India’s largest coffee chain, was last seen on the bridge over the Netravati river in the coastal town on Monday evening, according to the police. 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 his driver to stop the car and got off. Mr Patil, in the statement, said Mr Siddhartha asked him to drive towards the other end of the bridge and wait there.
Multiple teams of police forces, along with the Coast Guard and the National Disaster Response Force, had been searching for Mr Siddhartha. Police had also used dog squads and inflatable boats and roped in local fishermen to search the river.
A fisherman had on Tuesday claimed that he saw someone jumping off the bridge.
Days before he went missing, Mr Siddhartha, 60, had reportedly written a letter to board members and employees of Cafe Coffee Day. The letter – accessed by news agency ANI – alleges harassment by an income tax officer and expresses regret for not being able to create “the right profitable business”.
He also said that he was under “tremendous pressure” from one of “the private equity partners”.
VG Siddhartha’s offices were raided by income tax officers in September 2017. He was among the country’s largest exporters of coffee bean. His family has been in the coffee-growing business for more than 130 years, according to his profile page on the website of consultancy firm Mindtree, where he was a non-executive director.
Calling for a fair probe into his death, senior Congress leader and former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said the letter reportedly written by Mr Siddhartha “discussed about tax terrorism, which is an ugly face of politically motivated institutions”.
The letter supposed to have written by V G Siddhartha few days before his death has discussed about tax terrorism, which is an ugly face of politically motivated institutions.
What signals are we sending to the budding entrepreneurs without even an attempt to reform?
— Siddaramaiah (@siddaramaiah)
The Income Tax Department on Tuesday denied charges of harassment during its probe against Mr Siddhartha as it pointed out that his available signature was different from that on a letter being circulated on social media.
It said the businessman had admitted holding stash income after raids were conducted against him.