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India's King of Coffee Found Dead Against Financial Problems



NEW DELHI – V.G. Siddharth, a wealthy tycoon who beat Starbucks to dominate the retail coffee industry in India but faced personal financial problems, was found dead on Wednesday, police said.

Police have conducted a thorough search of Mr Siddharth, the founder of the popular Cafe Coffee Day chain, which was last seen Monday night on a bridge off the coastal city of Mangaluru in southern India.

Hanumantaraya, a senior police officer who goes by one name, said police were still investigating the cause of death.

Mr. Siddhartha, whose family has been in the coffee business for 1

30 years, has become one of the largest retailers in the world since the opening of Coffee Day in 1996, earning him the nickname "King of India". The company and its subsidiaries, which have recently expanded to other Asian and European countries, employs more than 30,000 people.

Business owners in India have long been in tense relations with the tax authorities. Corruption cases and fraud by magnates have caused public distrust in entrepreneurs. But critics say that in the name of fraud, the authorities sometimes resort to harassment to collect tax claims, including by honest citizens.

The result is powerlessness from all sides. The government is struggling to raise the tax revenue needed to fund social programs and build roads and power lines. Businesses are struggling to comply with vague tax rules and burdensome enforcement practices. And multinational companies are diverting from investing in India, fearing they will not be involved in lengthy disputes.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been promising to untie the knot for years. The 2014 election campaign before his first term in office, Mr Modi's party opposed "tax terrorism", which it said had damaged India's image in the eyes of major foreign companies.

After taking power, the Modi government passed a national value-added tax aimed at easing the burden of compliance with business requirements. Mr Modi's surprising decision in 2016 to repeal high-denomination currency notes was intended to force tax fraudsters to turn over money they had lost to avoid taxes.

But many major problems remain, even as institutions such as the World Bank acknowledge the steps India is taking to facilitate its business.

Police said that Mr Siddharth, who was in his late 50s or early 60s, told his family he was going to a vacation resort on Monday. He then asked his driver to drive him to Mangaluru, about 200 miles from the company headquarters in Bangalore.