The world’s most extravagant wedding was a quiet affair. The NDAs made sure of that. Still, with a ceremony spanning three days, 500 guests, and half of Barcelona, certain details were bound to trickle out sooner or later. Like the six-tiered wedding cake weighing in at 132 pounds. Or the squadron of photographers deployed in a helicopter to document the fun. Or the 200 expert butlers, cooks, and waiters flown in from Thailand and India to serve the guests. Or the horseback entrances, the musical fountains, the two-Michelin-starred chef, the exclusive hotels, the Dom Pérignon champagne, the commandeered national museums, the guests’ $25,000 shopping sprees …
And, of course, the bill. At some $60 million, it meant that Pramod Mittal, scion of the Mittal steel dynasty, had bestowed upon his daughter Shristi one of the most expensive nuptials in history. (The only recent thing that had come close, in fact, was the wedding of Pramod’s niece, Vanisha, daughter of his brother, Lakshmi Mittal, in 2004—a weeklong bash begun at the Palace of Versailles, with fireworks launched from the Eiffel Tower and a private performance by Kylie Minogue. It is estimated to have cost a trifling $50 million—but we’ll get to sibling rivalries later.)
Pramod Mittal, scion of the Mittal steel dynasty, had bestowed upon his daughter Shristi one of the most expensive nuptials in history.
At this precise moment in time, however, Pramod might be wishing he’d opted for a more conservative approach. The years since the 2013 Catalan extravaganza have not been kind to the steel magnate. Whereas big brother Lakshmi—chairman and C.E.O. of ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steelmaker—sits on a $9.6 billion fortune as the 19th-richest man in the U.K., Pramod’s own recent journey has been banana-skinned by arrest, hubris, and ruinous debt as well as alleged entanglements with organized crime. Last month, at the High Court on the Strand, London, he was declared bankrupt, with debts of more than $165 million. Perhaps, on reflection, a five-tiered cake would have sufficed.
The trouble for Pramod Mittal began in 2006 in an industrialized corner of rural Bosnia. The tycoon had signed on as a guarantor to the debts of Global Ispat Koksna Industrija Lukavac (or GIKIL), a producer of coke, which is used in steel production. Pramod became president of the company’s supervisory board, and, in 2013, GIKIL defaulted on $166 million of financing it owed to Stemcor, a prominent London-based steel trader. Stemcor itself was overhauled in 2015, siloing off its non-trading businesses, including Mittal’s guarantee, into a company called Moorgate Industries. It was Moorgate who at last obtained the bankruptcy order from the courts, following years of attempts to recuperate the money owed. And so, the hot potato came to rest, finally, in Pramod Mittal’s lap, where it has been seething ever since. (The London Evening Standard reported that sources “close to the situation” claimed a deal had almost been reached several times, only for Pramod to repeatedly “move the goalposts.”)
The bankruptcy proceedings could not have come at a worse time for Pramod. In July of 2019, he was arrested in the Bosnian industrial town of Lukavac on suspicion of involvement in an organized-crime scheme, whereby money was allegedly siphoned from GIKIL into private accounts. Pramod and other senior company officials, it seemed, had been outed by whistleblowers: the prosecutor investigating the case learned about some of the alleged criminal acts through GIKIL employees, reported the Sarajevo Times. (Pramod was later released on $1.2 million bail, and the investigation rumbles on.)
Just a few months earlier, the tycoon had been on the hook for well over $200 million owed to India’s State Trading Corporation following a “decade-old feud” with the body, according to The Economic Times. (Once again, Pramod’s company, Global Steel Holdings, had guaranteed a steel company that went into meltdown in the financial crash.) That time, fortunately, his brother reportedly bailed him out—interest and all. In fact, some speculate that the only reason Pramod Mittal was able to sign off on gargantuan guarantees in the first place was his proximity to his far richer—and more financially stable—brother.
Lakshmi Mittal is apparently unlikely to save his sibling a second time, however. “They are no longer close and live separate lives,” a source told The Times of London. “Lakshmi does not see why he should be financially responsible for his brother. This debt has nothing to do with him.”
Brotherly love can go only so far, after all. Just ask the Barclay twins—those reclusive billionaires who recently came to blows over an apparent bugging case at the Ritz in London and a mêlée of Lear-grade succession wranglings. Or the Hinduja brothers, those once inseparable siblings in one of Britain’s richest families, whose guiding principle is that “everything belongs to everyone and nothing belongs to anyone.” A High Court dispute has been playing out over a joint letter signed in 2014 which decreed that “assets held in any single brother’s name belong to all four.” What’s that old saying about blood being thicker than water? Because steel, oil, gold, bricks, and mortar—these are much heavier still.
“Lakshmi does not see why he should be financially responsible for his brother. This debt has nothing to do with him.”
The Mittals’ own rift began, apparently, when Lakshmi carved his interests in the family steel concern into an independent company in the 1990s. Known as the Carnegie of Calcutta, he quickly gained a reputation for aggressive takeovers and cunning deal-making, and his fortunes soared. After the split, the brothers reportedly did not speak for two years. Lakshmi moved to London, where he hopped from the Bishops Avenue in Hampstead (known as Billionaires Row) to the even grander Kensington Palace Gardens (also known, confusingly, as Billionaires Row—though Multi-Billionaire Mews might be more accurate these days). Lakshmi’s house—once owned by Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone and nicknamed the “Taj Mittal”—is valued at more than $200 million, compared with Pramod’s footling $21.5 million pile, in Mayfair. Family fallouts so often come down to square footage.
Success breeds contempt too. The elephant in the room has long been that Lakshmi is far more talented (and far, far better known) than his younger brother. Where Lakshmi appears to turn steel into gold, Pramod tends to enact his alchemy in reverse—he takes gold and turns it, consistently, into ashes. One example saw the younger magnate purchase the Bulgarian champion football club CSKA Sofia in 2006, only to lose money in its sale two years later. A source told the London Evening Standard: “Lakshmi always remembers the deal is about money. Pramod seems to lose sight of that. He’s more about saving face and having his eye on the longer game. But steel is a fast-moving world. There’s no point trying to be too clever or strategic.”
Lawyers representing Pramod Mittal are pursuing an appeal to the High Court, claiming that a “complex corporate matrix” has led to the bankruptcy order. The firm representing Moorgate Industries, meanwhile, is hopeful for a substantial restitution. Sources close to the case say that Lakshmi Mittal could still step in with yet another bailout—if only to preserve the family name.
And names, to this family, are important. Lakshmi, it should be said, gets his from the Hindu goddess of prosperity. “Pramod,” meanwhile, means simply “happiness.” As the case rolls on, the younger brother may soon learn whether one is possible without the other.
Joseph Bullmore is a Contributing Editor for AIR MAIL