Netflix wins India legal battle on rogue billionaires series

A smartphone with the Netflix logo is seen on a keyboard in front of displayed “Streaming service” words in this illustration taken March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

Netflix 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.

An Indian court 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.

Sahara India Pariwar, in a statement to Bloomberg on Wednesday, said the episode on Roy was “ill-motivated” and “contains various incorrect and misleading facts which depict only one-sided allegations.” The conglomerate, which got a stay order from court on the docuseries last month, has filed criminal cases against Netflix as well as its producers, directors and reporters, according to the statement.

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 91 billion rupees ($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 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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