Indian Business mogul and owner of Vaitarna Private Holdings Incorporated (VPHI), V G Siddhartha, was found dead near a river on the outskirts of the southern city of Mangalore, yesterday. VPHI is believed to be the holder of the second largest forest concession in Guyana, which is approximately 738,000 hectares.

According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the businessman went missing on Monday last, after apparently walking away from his car and driver. Reports from the BBC stated that Siddhartha was travelling to Mangalore on Sunday evening when he asked his driver to stop the car on a bridge over the Netravati river on the outskirts of the city.

His driver told police that Siddhartha then got out of the car and told him he wanted to take a walk. He also instructed him to park the car further ahead. When Siddhartha did not return after half an hour, the driver called his mobile phone, only to find the number switched off. Alarmed, he informed the police who assembled two teams and searched the river on Sunday and Monday. A fisherman found his body on yesterday morning.

Siddhartha is the owner of Café Coffee Day, to which VHPI is a subsidiary company. VPHI has in the past come under scrutiny from Guyanese officials and intense pressure from the media, to fulfil its obligations to the country.

The company was placed under the spotlight after several reports began to surface that the business was exporting raw lumber, which was a deviation from its commitment to incorporate value-added measures to support job creation for persons living on the outskirts of the concession.

The concessions were awarded under the administrations of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic, which is in Opposition now. VPHI came under heavy criticism by the political parties now in government, who has vowed to address the granting of such large concessions to one company.

Talks were initiated by the David Granger-led administration to have the company relinquish some of the lands. It is still unclear whether those talks were successful. These negotiations were being conducted even as the company was coming under increased to implement facilities for value-added activities.

VHPI earlier in 2017 insisted that it had fulfilled its commitment to Guyana to set up a wood processing facility at Wineperu, Essequibo. This created another hubbub as other operators commented that the company’s use of mobile saws was a deviation from the definition of “processing plant”.

Later in 2017, the Income Tax Department of India investigated Siddhartha for tax evasion.


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