Body of Cafe Coffee Day’s owner found on river bank

The body of the owner of Cafe Coffee Day, a popular home-grown coffee chain in India, was found on the banks of Netravati near Mangaluru two days after he went missing near a bridge spanning the river, agencies report.

Fishermen found the body of VG Siddhartha, above, on the river bank near Hoige Bazaar early on Wednesday and called police.

The body was identified by his relatives and taken to Wemlock Hospital in Mangaluru for post-mortem examination.

The mortal remains of the coffee baron were taken to Chikkamagaluru, his native, where the final rites will be performed.

In another development, Coffee Day Enterprises named SV Ranganath as interim chairman after the death of Siddhartha. It named Nitin Bagmane as interim chief operating officer subject to approval by the board.

Created jobs for thousands

Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa expressed his shock over the demise Siddhartha and said his thoughts and prayers are with the family of the businessman.

Former prime minister H D Deve Gowda, who hails from Karnataka, remembered Siddhartha as a simple man whom he knew for the past 35 years.

The coffee king gave jobs for thousands of people and the government should properly investigate the cause of his death, Gowda said.
Siddhartha, 60, died under suspicious circumstances.

He left Bengaluru by car on Monday afternoon and was heading to Sakleshpur in Hassan district of Karnataka when he told his driver to take him to Mangaluru.

On the way, Siddhartha got off his car around 6.30pm near a bridge spanning River Netravati at Kotekar.

According to the driver, Siddhartha asked him to wait and started to take a walk. When his boss failed to return even after an hour, the driver contacted the family of Siddharta who is son-in-law of former Karnataka Chief Minister SM Krishna.

The canine unit of the police soon ran up to the bridge sniffing all the way indicating that Siddharta was there before he disappeared.

Search groups found no trace of Siddhartha after scouring the waters. Then a local fisherman said on Tuesday that he saw someone jump off the bridge on Monday evening.

This deepened the suspicion of police that Siddhartha might have committed suicide.

Media reports emerging hours after Siddhartha’s disappearance pointed to business troubles for the coffee baron who owned some 1,750 shops in India and abroad employing some 30,000 people.

Soon after his disappearance, a letter purportedly written by Siddhartha to his company’s board and family was doing rounds on social media. It said he was “giving up” as he had failed as an entrepreneur.

In it, he also alleged harassment by the previous director general of the income tax department.

The income tax department denied the allegation adding that the signature of Siddhartha available with them is different from that on the letter being circulated on social media.

It also said Siddhartha had admitted in a sworn statement to holding unaccounted income of $52.56 million with him and $17.28 million with his Coffee Day Enterprises Ltd.

This admission came during raids conducted on him and his businesses. The raids were a follow-up to similar IT action against a leading politician in the state.

Politics over death

Leaders of India’s opposition party Congress tried to make political gains by blaming the Modi government at the centre for encouraging tax officials to target businessmen.

Congress leader and former Karnataka chief minister, Siddaramaiah, described the businessman’s death as disturbing and mysterious and hinted at “invisible hands that ended his life”.

Siddhartha came from a family of coffee growers. He was inspired by the owners of the German coffee chain Tchibo to set up cafes in India. The first outlet of Cafe Coffee Day was opened in Bengaluru in 1994.

Coffee Day went public in 2015.

While expressing their grief, top businessmen of India who knew Siddhartha described him as a perfect gentleman and a very successful entrepreneur.