By S Neeraj Krishna
RELIANCE GROUP chairman Anil Ambani on Friday (25) told London High Court he had to sell jewellery to meet legal expenses, and sought to dismiss reports on his extravagant lifestyle as speculation as he gave evidence in a loan dispute with Chinese banks.
The 61-year-old former billionaire appeared via videolink from Mumbai before the London High Court on Friday (25) for compulsory cross-examination in aid of an asset disclosure order obtained by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd Mumbai Branch, China Development Bank and Exim Bank of China.
The order required Ambani to give full disclosure of all of his assets worldwide exceeding $100,000 (about £76,400).
Ambani — who plunged from being the world’s sixth richest person to “zero net worth” claims — said he led a “very disciplined” lifestyle, and “owned nothing meaningful”, according to Indian news reports.
“My needs are not vast and my lifestyle is very disciplined,” Ambani told the court.
“Any suggestion of a lavish lifestyle past, present and future is completely speculative,” he said.
Asked about his fleet of luxury cars, Ambani said: “These are speculative media stories. I have never owned a Rolls-Royce. At present, I use one car.”
A spokesperson for the businessman added in a statement that Ambani was a “simple man of simple tastes, contrary to exaggerated perceptions of his flamboyance and lavish lifestyle”.
“He is devoted to his family and company, an avid marathon runner, and deeply spiritual,” it said. “He is also a lifelong vegetarian, teetotaller and non-smoker who would much rather watch a movie at home with his kids than go out on the town. Reports that suggest otherwise are completely misleading.”
Ambani reportedly told the court that his “expenses were minimal and being borne by wife and family”, and his statement listed loans taken from his mother and son.
Reports said he claimed to have raised about £1 million through sale of jewellery between January and June this year.
“I don’t have a lavish lifestyle and no other income,” he said.
“I met legal expense by sale of jewellery and, if I have to meet further expenses, [it] will be subject to approval by the court to dispose of other assests.”
The dispute revolves around an alleged breach of a personal guarantee on a company debt refinancing loan of about £726 million dating back to February 2012. Ambani denied providing authority for any such guarantee, resulting in the High Court action in the UK – the jurisdiction agreed upon as part of the terms of the loan agreement.
In May, the commercial division of the High Court of England and Wales in London had ruled that the personal guarantee was binding on Ambani and directed him to pay about £563 million to the three Chinese banks.
“The banks will use the information from the cross-examination to pursue all available legal avenues to protect their rights and recover the outstanding loans owed to them,” the banks said in a statement this week.
The banks’ attorney, Bankim Thanki, said Ambani was “fighting tooth and nail to prevent having to pay us a penny”.
At a hearing in the case earlier in the year, a UK judge had ruled that he did not accept Ambani’s defence that his net worth was nearly zero or that his family would not step in to assist him when “push came to shove”.