JUST over a year ago, on the main drag of a former Soviet provincial town, a young man emerged from a white stretched Hummer Limousine and promised to create a thousand jobs.

Sporting a showy printed blazer over a heavy metal t-shirt, jeans and embellished baseball boots, the youth did not quite look the part of a tycoon as he watched local dignitaries cut the red ribbon of what they thought was a new HQ of his global alcohol empire.

Yet this was, local news outlets declared, the son of an Indian beer billionaire. He planned, they said, to invest $30 million by the end of the year building or refurbishing five distilleries to make vodka for export.

READ MORE: Whisky industry declares war on mystery 'tycoon'

So arrived in Ternopil, western Ukraine, a man who styled himself “the baron of spirits”, a young-looking 33-year-old named, in so far as anyone could tell, Tofikuddin Ovaysi.

Six months later he was gone, his dramatic claims debunked, his business bankrupt and his bills unpaid.

Officials in the city, which is about the size of Aberdeen, no longer talk of the man they eventually called “Tofik”. They’re embarrassed.

“He hasn’t been mentioned for about six months,” said one local. “After all, in the town he had some real patronage.” She meant political cover.

On paper, local officials in Ternopil, desperate for jobs, might have had reason to give Mr Ovaysi his warm welcome. Because, at least according to Britain’s official register of corporations, Companies House, the mysterious businessman owns some of the biggest global brands in Scotch whisky, beer, vodka and rum, as well as car maker Volvo, tobacco giants BAT and supermarkets Asda, Wal-Mart and Carrefour

Except, in reality, he does not. The 33-year-old has simply registered scores of English limited companies – currently 96 – with names almost identical to those of real corporations or their brands. Each registration cost £10.

The Herald:

Many of his current firms are English-registered clones of Scottish brands both large and small.

His list of businesses includes names like Johnny Walker, Macallan, Miller, Glenfiddich, Bacardi, Smirnoff, Guinness, Chivas Brothers, Toremore, Balvenie, Glenturret, Glenlivet, London Dry Gin, Martini, Stella Artois, Strathisla, Bushmills and Kilbeggan.

This brand grab has, as The Herald reveals today, sparked a major backlash from industry. Diageo, the world’s biggest whisky maker, has confirmed it is taking action while William Grant and Sons, Bushmills and Bacardi have already done so.

The story of how a single individual was able to set up scores of British firms in the names of some of the world’s biggest brands is remarkable enough. But Mr Ovaysi was also able to convince an entire city that he was a tycoon, and not without the help of corporate registries, including Britain’s. And that involved his biggest slight of corporate hand: to become India’s United Breweries.

Back in February 2016 when Mr Ovaysi stepped outside his Hummer (later journalists discovered he had rented the vehicle from a neighbouring town), the assumption was that he was from the business, best known for its Kingfisher beer. After all, limo, parked on the town’s central avenue, Stepan Bandera, was draped in a banner declaring “Laskovo Prosimo”, Ukrainian for welcome, and carrying the logo of a business called UB Groupe. This looked an awful lot like the trademark of UB Group, the main United Breweries vehicle of its owner billionaire Vijay Mallya.

The Herald:

News sources feverishly reported that Mr Ovaysi, who is of South Asian appearance, represented the Indian business. They even said he was Mr Mallya’s son.

Within months Mr Ovaysi was, in fact, not only the owner of a Ukrainian clone of UB Group. He had also registered companies at Britain’s Companies House which looked every bit like the real thing. He still owns UK-registered United Breweries Group Limited and a Kingfisher Beer Limited.

So Ternopil put on quite a show for “Tofik” when he arrived. One paper called it “burlesque”. There were balloons, banners, flags and a security guard bursting open a magnum of champagne. An Orthodox priest blessed proceedings with holy water while two models in national dress gave Mr Ovaysi a traditional welcome gift of bread and salt.

Inside the HQ –which had gold painted alabaster columns – a line of young models in black evening gowns handed out gift bags next to a statue of Indian deity carrying a giant bottle of Finlandia on her head. (Mr Ovaysi was later to register both Finlandia and its maker, Brown-Forman, as his own).

Reports varied about exactly how rich Mr Ovaysi was and exactly how much money he was going to invest in Ukraine. But they all agreed there were going to be lots of jobs making alcohol for export. And that this was big deal. The former head of the regional police joined his firm as a business development manager. Mr Ovaysi’s UB-Groupe practically became a household name, sponsoring a big screen fan zone for the 2016 European football finals and a beauty contest, which Mr Ovaysi judged.

Six months later news reports were saying wages at UB-Groupe were two months in arrears, rent was owed and the firm had not been able to finance a test batch of vodka. One local news site said relatives had pulled the plug on Mr Ovaysi after he spent $2m. This came after threw a birthday party for himself said to cost more than $10,000.

Later journalists were to dig more. That Hummer? Rented in the neighbouring town, they found out. The logo for UB-Groupe, they discovered, was not the same as Mr Mallya’s business. And Mr Ovaysi, they noted, did not have the youthful good looks of Mr Mallya’s real son, Siddharth.

The Herald:

“The King has no clothes,” declared local internet paper Ternopilskaya Lipa. “That is the only conclusion we can come to after analysing all the facts. But the question is: what was the point of all the lies?”

Another local newspaper, Nova, openly compared Mr Ovaysi to Ostap Bender, the legendary “great combinator”, or schemer, or early Soviet satire. He convinced the local elite, said the paper, to invest. A lot of them are very unhappy.

So who is Mr Ovaysi? Where is he from? The “Baron of Spirits” did not respond to letters from The Herald to the address of his London maildrop where he registered his British virtual empire. His email, which was a faked account from Diageo, also did not respond.

A Tofikuddin Rakhmatuddinovich Ovaysi is listed as a sole trader in Moscow. A man of that name also had a small business which says it trades in potatoes. In Ternopil, newspapers believe this to be their “Tofik”.

The virtual tycoon, at least in digital form, did came up with a plan for a new local drink, Vodka Ternopil, or VT-7. Its logo was an angel in a revealing dress and, according to its website, it was presented by “Baron of Spirits Tofikuddin Ovaysi & UBG Family”. In an online appeal for investors, Mr Ovaysi appeared to be concerned that somebody would steal his idea. After a health warning in broken English (“Must don’t Addict”), the site of VT-7 threatens, without a hint of irony, a minimum $1m fine for misuse of its brand.