Delhi High Court has dismissed the plea of fugitive diamond merchant Mehul Choksi to pre-screen the Netflix Documentary “Bad Boy Billionaires”. The film is on the lives of India’s business tycoons accused of committing frauds of massive proportions and were involved in many financial scandals. The docu-series is scheduled for release on September 2.
Mehul Choksi, Nirav Modi and the PNB bank Scandal
Mehul Choksi is the owner of the Gitanjali Group, a jewelry company, and maternal uncle of Nirav Modi. Earlier this week, Mehul Choksi had moved the Delhi High Court against the said show on Netflix.
Modi was the prime accused in a fraud case of around 2 billion dollars by the Punjab National Bank and was also sued in the State of California for 4.2 million dollars for defrauding Los Angeles entrepreneur, Paul Alfonso. Investigations in both cases are ongoing, and Nirav Modi is currently arrested by the London police.
Mehul Choksi, Nirav Modi’s partner in many of the firms involved in the PNB fraud, is also accused in the same case. He is wanted by the Judicial authorities of India but is a fugitive, and has gained Antiguan citizenship.
Earlier this year, he was also listed by the RBI amongst 50 wilful defaulters accused of scamming the country’s banks. In an RTI response to activist Saket Gokhale, the RBI said that the outstanding loans amount to about 68,607 crore rupees.
Bad Boy Billionaires
Bad Boy Billionaires, a documentary series is based on four Indian billionaires- Vijay Mallya, Subrata Roy, Nirav Modi, and Byrraju Ramalinga Raju- all of whom are charged with money laundering.
The series aims to take a closer look at how these billionaires built their empire and how their financial crimes led to their downfall.
“This investigative docu-series explores the greed, fraud and corruption that build up- and ultimately brought down-India’s most infamous tycoons,” the Netflix description read.
The Supreme Court on Mehul Choksi plea had verbally asked the counsel for the Netflix series to consider showing him the series before the release in order to cut the controversy short.
In the last hearing on 28th August, Friday, Delhi HC denied the plea but Mr. Choksi can, however, file a civil suit if he still wants to pursue the matter, Justice Navin Chawla said after a two-hour hearing today.
“In my opinion, a writ petition for enforcement of a private is not maintainable. The appropriate remedy would be civil suit as the alleged infringement is of a private right. The petition is dismissed. The petitioner is at liberty to raise the issue in a private civil suit,” Justice Chawla said.
Netflix’s lawyers said Mr Choksi’s plea for a pre-screening was “wholly misconceived” and “mischievous”. Neeraj Kishan Kaul and Dayan Krishnan, representing Netflix, said Mr Choksi is a “declared absconder and fugitive” and allowing pre-screening to him will be “freezing of free speech”.
Along with his nephew Nirav Modi, Mr Choksi is accused of cheating Punjab National Bank of up to ₹ 13,500 crore. Both fled India before the case blew up and have never returned.
Mr Choksi’s lawyer Vijay Aggarwal said his client has a right to fair trial, which should not be prejudiced with the release of the documentary, and objected to Netflix’s lawyer calling Mr Choksi a fugitive.
“I am not a fugitive. There is a stay order operating in my favour by the Bombay High Court. They have called me a fugitive 100 times in this hearing and they have misinformed the court. I urge the court to preview the series and protect me (Mr Choksi),” Mr Aggarwal said on behalf of his client.
He threatened that Netflix, an American company, has to respect Indian laws and the Constitution or it could be banned like Chinese apps.
Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma and the centre’s counsel Ajay Digpaul, representing the Electronics and Information Technology Ministry, said there is no statutory mandate to regulate or review over the top (OTT) content.
Giving a brief about the series, Netflix’s lawyers said it includes a story about a diamond tycoon who travelled to London with his uncle, after which the Punjab National Bank scam broke out. The lawyer said only one or two interviews of Mr Choksi to the media are in the series and just two minutes are devoted to him.
There is no reference to any trial going on about Mr Choksi or him being related to any case allegedly involving Nirav Modi, the Netflix lawyer said. “If pre-screening is allowed, it will be a form of censorship. Free speech is not only what a journalist writes, it is also the right of a citizen to know what is happening,” he said.