Court allows Netflix to screen series on controversial Indian billionaires

In this file photo dated April 27, 2018, Vijay Mallya arrives for a hearing for his extradition case in London. UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid ordered the extradition of Vijay Mallya to India, on Monday, Feb 4, 2019.
Netflix Inc. won the right to stream a series featuring Indian tycoons who ran into trouble with the law, a victory that may boost its efforts to offer more local content in a crucial emerging market.

A court in Mumbai allowed the American streaming giant to release a bulk of the episodes of its “Bad Boy Billionaires: India”-- a series that documents the travails of beer tycoon Vijay Mallya, diamantaire Nirav Modi and Subrata Roy, founder-owner of the realty-to-shadow financier group, Sahara India Pariwar. However, an episode on a software tycoon still faces challenge in another local court.

The win, after weeks of legal wrangling in Indian courts, bolsters Netflix, which is plowing hundreds of millions of dollars in India to offer more local content. The company is aiming for a larger slice of the biggest open market in Asia, with more than 500 million smartphones users.

The series “explores the greed, fraud and corruption that built up -- and ultimately brought down -- India’s most infamous tycoons,” Netflix says on its website. The fourth episode of the series -- about B. Ramalinga Raju, -- remains on hold as Netflix is contesting a legal challenge on it. Raju confessed to inflating the assets of his software firm, Satyam Computer Services Ltd., by about $1 billion in 2009.

Netflix India declined to comment on the ongoing legal challenge and the recent legal win.

Mallya, once called the “King of Good Times” for his extravagant lifestyle, is fighting his extradition to India. He was arrested in London in 2017 after 17 Indian banks accused him of willfully defaulting on more than Rs 91 billion ($1.2 billion) in debt accumulated by Kingfisher Airlines -- a carrier he founded in 2005 and shut down seven years later.

Nirav Modi, an ex-billionaire who used to be a jeweler to Hollywood stars -- Kate Winslet wore his creations to the Oscars -- is also fighting extradition to India where he’s accused of defrauding a stare-run lender of around $2 billion.

Falsifying accounts

Roy was sent to custody in 2014 for his Sahara group’s failure to comply with an Indian markets regulator’s order for a $3.9 billion refund to depositors, forcing the tycoon to sell assets. He’s been out on parole since 2016. Sahara, which had opposed the Netflix series and got a stay order last month, told the local court in its petition that the documentary demeaned Roy and his conglomerate and made baseless claims.

Raju was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2015 after an Indian court found him guilty of falsifying accounts at his firm, Satyam, by faking invoices, inflating cash reserves and understating debt. Raju told a Hyderabad court that airing the documentary would amount to defamation, while cases against him were still being heard in courts.

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