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Rajan Pillai, Snack Food Magnate, Dies While Jailed In India

July 10, 1995

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ Asian snack food magnate Rajan Pillai, who fled Singapore earlier this year after being convicted of fraud, died while trying to avoid extradition from his native India. He was 47.

Pillai died Friday in a small hospital two hours after he collapsed, bleeding through his mouth, at New Delhi’s Tihar jail. Doctors said he died of liver cirrhosis.

Pillai fled to India in April after being convicted of cheating his company of nearly $18 million. He was arrested in a New Delhi hotel on Tuesday and jailed pending his extradition hearing.

The family’s lawyer has threatened to file a lawsuit against the judge who jailed Pillai after he was captured and ignored his complaints of an illness that required hospitalization.

During his life, Pillai fought hard to reach the top corporate echelons after being born in 1948 into a family of cashew nut businessmen in the southern coastal state of Kerala.

A civil engineer by training, he entered business in 1975 by starting a hotel project in Goa, a resort on India’s west coast. He later switched to snack foods by entering into a deal with the American food company Standard Brands.

Pillai soon moved to Singapore and began running many of the companies that Standard Brands had bought in Asia, including Britannia Industries, India’s largest cookie and bread maker.

He built a $500 million snack food empire across many Asian and Pacific countries and earned a nickname _ ``the Biscuit King.″

He also earned a reputation as a corporate raider by entering complex deals and buying and merging many companies to build and expand his empire. In 1989, he reportedly controlled six Asian companies.

Pillai and his wife, Nina, were the toast of socialite parties in New Delhi, Bombay and Singapore. Guest lists at Pillai parties included powerful officials, famous politicians, film stars and journalists.

But soon an empire built on debt began to crumble, and accusations of shady deals clouded his fame. Pillai’s creditors demanded their money back, and associates accused him of siphoning money from their companies.

In 1993, a Singapore court charged him with cheating and breach of trust, and he was convicted. He faced a sentence of up to 14 years.

Pillai fled to Bombay on April 11, saying the Singapore trial was unfair and he wanted to be tried in India. He evaded arrest until July 4, when detectives arrested him at New Delhi’s Le Meridien Hotel.

A trial court ignored his pleas for medical help for a liver dysfunction and sent him to jail.

Pillai is survived by his wife and two sons. On Sunday night, his 12-year-old son, Krishnan, lit the funeral pyre as his father was cremated in southern India.

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