Body of Missing India Coffee Chain Founder Recovered in River

Letter Alleges He ‘Succumbed’ to Debt Pressure
July 31, 2019 Updated: September 2, 2019

The founder-chairman of India’s biggest coffee chain, Cafe Coffee Day, VG Siddhartha, has died, police confirmed after his body was recovered from the Netravati river on the morning of July 30.

Siddhartha set up the Cafe Coffee Day chain in 1996. He went missing on the evening of July 29 and was last seen walking across a bridge near the city of Mangaluru, in India’s southern state of Karnataka.

According to reports, when the billionaire failed to return after about an hour, his chauffeur alerted his family members in a panic, who then contacted police.

Mangalore police commissioner Sandeep Patil told CNN Business local fishermen and coast guard assisted police divers in the search for Siddhartha. His body was recovered after a frantic 36-hour search, Patil confirmed in a phone call with Bloomberg on July 30.

“We found the body early morning today. It needs to be identified, we have already informed the family members,” the police commissioner told Business Today.

“We are shifting the body to Wenlock Hospital. We will continue with an investigation.”

There are over 1,700 Cafe Coffee Day outlets around the world. While the majority of stores are in India, the chain also has stores set up in Austria, Malaysia, Nepal, the Czech Republic, and Egypt. It also exports to several markets, including the Middle East, Europe, and North America.

According to the National Restaurant Association of India, there are 10 times more Coffee Day outlets in India than its United States rival, Starbucks, reported Bloomberg.

News of the businessman’s death comes after his company on July 30 released a letter allegedly penned by Siddartha to the board saying he had “given up” and had “fought for a long time.”

He was reportedly being harassed by Indian tax officials, and was under immense pressure from a private equity partner and lenders, according to the letter which said he was “succumbing to the situation.”

In 2017, tax authorities raided the company’s offices in several cities, and according to reports, Siddhartha recently discussed selling a large stake in the business to Coca-Cola.

“I am very sorry to let down all the people that put their trust in me,” the letter dated July 27 reads.

“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.”

Siddhartha, who was married to a daughter of former foreign minister and Karnataka’s chief minister, SM Krishna, became the owner of the biggest coffee plantation in Asia, with around 12,000 hectares of plantations.

In the letter, the businessman requested that Coffee Day be run under new management, reported CNN Business.

“I am solely responsible for all mistakes,” he wrote. “Every financial transaction is my responsibility.”

According to an exchange filing on July 30, the company said its leadership team will “ensure continuity of business” in his absence.

Before he went missing Siddhartha reportedly told family members he was going to visit the hill resort of Sakleshpur. However, police said he told his driver to take him to Mangaluru. He then asked the driver to stop on a bridge near Mangaluru and got out while speaking on the phone.

Shares in the coffee chain, which went public in 2015, fell by 20 percent in Mumbai on Tuesday amid worries over the future of the company.

“My intention was never to cheat or mislead anybody, I have failed as an entrepreneur,” Siddhartha added in the letter. “I hope someday you will understand, forgive, and pardon me.”

A unit of private equity firm KKR, which has a stake in the company, told Bloomberg in an email: “We are deeply saddened by the developments, and our thoughts are with his family at this time.”