CCD founder VG Siddhartha cremated in Karnataka's Chikkamagaluru; probe into death continues, police suspect suicide

  • Cafe Coffee Day founder VG Siddhartha's body was fished out on the banks of the Nethravathi river near Mangaluru on Wednesday

  • Siddhartha's body was traced after 36 hours of an intensive search operation

  • A letter purportedly written by him to his company's board of directors and employees showed he was struggling with financial problems

Cafe Coffee Day founder VG Siddhartha, whose body was fished out on the banks of the Nethravathi river near Mangaluru on Wednesday, was cremated on Wednesday evening in Chikkamagaluru.

The last rites of Siddhartha were held at his ancestral village in Chethanahalli in Karnataka. The body of the billionaire coffee tycoon was found by local fishermen and patrolling policemen on Wednesday morning, two days after he went missing. A police official said "everything" points to suicide, but nothing can be ruled out until the investigation is over.

 CCD founder VG Siddhartha cremated in Karnatakas Chikkamagaluru; probe into death continues, police suspect suicide

Family members and relatives pay their last respects to the mortal remains of Cafe Coffee Day founder VG Siddhartha, in Chikmagalur on Wednesday. PTI

Siddhartha's body was traced after 36 hours of an intensive search operation, with a letter allegedly written by him to his company's board of directors and employees showing he was struggling with financial problems due to debt, taxes and share buy backs. He also complained of "a lot of harassment" from the previous Income Tax director-general, in his letter.

The search involved multiple agencies, which scoured the waters under a bridge across Nethravathi, where the founder of India's largest coffee chain was reportedly last seen on Monday night.

After the post-mortem at Wenlock Hospital in Mangaluru, the body was taken to Siddhartha's home district of Chikkamagaluru, where it was cremated after hundreds of people paid a tearful homage to the 'Coffee King' at his Chetanahali estate.

Siddhartha's son Amartya lit the funeral pyre after the last rites were performed according to the traditions of the Vokkaliga community from which Siddhartha hailed, in the presence of a large number of people.

The atmosphere turned sombre as Amartya lit the pyre. 87-year-old former Chief Minister SM Krishna, father-in-law of Siddhartha and his wife Prema were also present.

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 the Amalgamated Bean Coffee (ABC) office for people to pay their last respects.

Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa, his predecessor HD Kumaraswamy and several state political leaders, like former ministers DK Shivakumar and KG George, paid their respects at the office.

After paying his tribute, Yediyurappa said, "He (Siddhartha) was big business and owned one of the biggest coffee companies in the world. I pray the family gets the strength to overcome this particular hardship. He wasn't an ordinary person. This shouldn't have happened but it seems that he took this decision (of committing suicide). I still can't believe this has happened. I continue to pray for his family."

A senior police official told PTI that the investigation was underway but prima facie everything points out to a case of suicide. "But we still we can't rule out anything. We will have to finish the investigation," he said.

Political war on Siddhartha's death

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. Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said Siddhartha's death reflected a "worrying trend".

Former Karnataka chief minister and senior Congress leader Siddaramaiah said Siddhartha's death is both "disturbing and mysterious".

In a series of tweets, Mamata Banerjee lashed out at the Centre over the state of economy and VG Siddhartha's death. "I hear from different sources that captains of industry in the country are under pressure; some of them have left the country and some are contemplating to move out. All the Opposition political parties are afraid of horse trading and harassment with political vendetta," she wrote. She urged the NDA government to work in a peaceful manner "so that people are confident and that political vendetta and agencies do not destroy the future of the country".

How Siddhartha went missing
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 also showed he was under "tremendous pressure" from lenders. "I have failed as an entrepreneur," he said in the alleged letter.

Siddhartha said he had 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 partially completed six months ago by borrowing a large sum of money from a friend". "Tremendous pressure from other lenders lead to me succumbing to the situation," he said in the letter.

Coffee Day Enterprises on Wednesday named independent director SV Ranganath as the interim chairman of the company to replace Siddhartha and Nitin Bagmane as an interim chief operating officer (COO) of the company.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jul 31, 2019 20:47:28 IST