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Rajendra Singh Sethia: 34-year-long karma

From boom to bust to jail to acquittal

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Rajendra Singh Sethia

New Delhi, Aug 13 (IANS) From London-based billionaire to the world’s biggest bankrupt to derisively being described as Delhi’s bootlegger, Rajendra Singh Sethia has seen a gamut of emotions, a roller-coaster life with a strong underpinning of karmic payback. This dogged karmic outlook keeps him afloat, sane and engaged with the world. The 72-year-old fought incessantly for 34 years till he was acquitted just last month.

He has served jail time in Tihar where he earned the sobriquet of Sethia Saheb or Boss, having spent time along with the Serpent Charles Sobhraj aka ‘bikini killer’ in Tihar. Framed for his escape, he went back to jail just a week before his release in the Punjab National Bank case.

In the life and times of Raj Sethia, there have been innumerable twists and turns, but he accepts every curve ball thrown at him. A family which externed him, two wives who walked out on him, a third Sonia who died tragically in a car crash in Delhi in February 2012 and two children from the first wife who have been by his side helping him rebuild his life tentpole by tentpole. A victim of the Indian criminal justice system where the wheels move ever so slowly, dealt a bad hand, a trumped up charge which he fought gamely and valiantly for three decades and more to finally emerge triumphant waving a clean chit.

His father and grandfather were London-based businessmen since 1920s dabbling in both jute and tea. His father S.L. Sethia started the jute business in 1944 while the tea business came through an acquisition much later when Raj bought the premium Calcutta headquartered but Assam gardens FERA company Jokai Tea.

His brother Nirmal Sethia owns the posh brand Newby Tea in London, an astute and aggressive businessman who has done very well for himself — Vladimir Putin drinks his tea. But Raj Sethia has separated formally from his brother and only recently has started visiting him in Dubai. He can’t visit him in London because the the British government refuses to give him a visa, despite his recent acquittal.

Man on a mission, Raj Sethia told IANS: “I have had four heart attacks, served jail time in Tihar, lost everything I had, have five stents in place, the Nigerian police, CBI, Crime Branch following him for allegedly aiding and abetting Sobhraj escape, Scotland Yard tailing me pretty much all my early life, and yet, I have survived. My quest for a British visa is paramount for I want to go there and clear my name. My karma is such that I will do this too.”

BUSINESS: “I started my own business in 1974, I was the youngest of four brothers, but I separated from the family business very early. My two elder brothers Ranjit and Nirmal asked me to separate saying that I was too much of a risk taker and they were unwilling to trust me. My credo in life has always been I will always do what I think is right, after all as a Marwari, we are constructive, industrious, risk takers and at one level even speculators.

“I made piles of money in sugar and other commodities. BY 1975, I had made and lost my first fortune fulfilling my brothers’ prophecies that I was reckless. That didn’t deter me and I went to what I thought was the next boom town – Nigeria with 140 quid in my pocket that same year. Luck plays a part. I have always believed that you need 90 per cent luck and 10 per cent good luck. Circumstances were such those days that oil had been struck in Nigeria and the world was gathering there looking for a punt. But I was broke and realised that if I could get a letter of credit, I could have a blast selling beer because of the climate”.

BANKING: “I managed to meet a Nigerian who was impressed with my sheer audacity and he bankrolled me for $150,000. I used the LC for $150,000 to bring a shipment of beer into Nigeria. My first order, the principal gave me the cash and thereafter I kept getting breaks in Nigeria. It was fated and destined, more or less written. Over the next seven years, I made millions in shipping, sugar, tea through my flagship company called Esal Commodities. Till my next big leap of faith, I bought New York-based Jefferson National Bank in 1981-82. This was a big breakthrough for me, I became the first Indian ever approved by the Federal Reserve in the US to be allowed to own a bank in US (52 per cent of it belonged to me). My sphere of operations had become bigger by then. Sitting in London, my trading empire had spread from Nigeria to Sudan”.

TEA: “Around this time, almost in parallel, my elder brother (Ranjit) asked me to look at Jokai Tea, a blue chip FERA company saying that it would be a good fit to my trading operations. I bought 74 per cent (it was an English FERA company) for 10 million pounds. I had never seen their tea gardens before or after the acquisition, professionals managed the show. These were 10 of the best Assam gardens and it was a running company, so I didn’t want to waste my bandwidth on it. I was busy trading in rice, wheat, gasoline, owned my own shipping line with 10 to 12 cargo ships. Things were going hunky dory. Trade cycles tell you that booms are always followed by troughs and even bust”.

GLOBAL EMPIRE: “I was London-based and expanding rapidly, those days I was a billion pound entity across my different group companies. Karma struck. In 1983, I was going gangbusters, ready to open my Jefferson National Bank branch in London. The missile came from a most unexpected source. The Nigerian military coup d’etat of December 31, 1983 coordinated by key officers of the Nigerian military, led to the ouster of the democratically elected government of President Shehu Shagari, and the installation of Major General Muhammadu Buhari as Head of State.”

Triggering a dramatic chain of events that altered Raj Sethia’s life forever. Colonel Tunde Ogbeha was tasked by the coup plotters to negotiate the peaceful surrender of President Shagari’s Brigade of Guards army unit. Ogbeha was unable to reach Colonel Bello Kaliel, the Commander of the Brigade of Guards and engaged in a Lagos-to-Abuja-and-back seeking game which made Kaliel suspicious. Brigadier Ibrahim Bako was given the responsibility of arresting President Shagari after Ogbeha’s successful negotiation of a peaceful surrender.

Unknown to Bako was the fact that no such surrender had been negotiated. Additionally details of the plot had not only been leaked to President Shagari, but also Captain Anyogo and Lt Colonel Eboma of the Brigade of Guards mounted a defence of the presidential villa in anticipation of an attack.

As expected Brigadier Bako arrived at the Presidential villa to arrest President Shagari, but President Shagari’s guards were not pacified as expected. A firefight ensued leading to the killing of Brigadier Bako. As it always happens Sethia’s name was associated with Shagari and a witch hunt began. Bankers turned up asking for money. Allied Arab Bank managed to get an injunction against him in London.

The following year, his life was turned upside down again. Trials and tribulations of a new kind began to shadow him. The 1985 Sudanese coup d’etat was a military coup that took place on April 6, 1985. The coup was staged by a group of military officers and led by Defence Minister and Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Abdel Rahman Swar al-Dahab, against the government of President Gaafar Nimeiry.

The Sudanese Armed Forces took control of the country after more than a week of civil unrest, caused by increasing in food prices and growing dissatisfaction with the government of President Nimeiry, who himself came to power in the 1969 coup. Nimeiry was in the US at the time of the coup. It was a brutal double whammy for Sethia.

The coup was announced over the radio. The radio studios in Omdurman were heavily guarded by soldiers, who withdrew only after the announcement was made. Reportedly, there were two casualties during the coup, killed in a brief shootout as soldiers seized the state security headquarters in the capital Khartoum.

(To be continued)

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JNU students’ march at behest of Left leaders: Spl Branch report

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JNU protest to Parliament

New Delhi, Nov 18 : A confidential report of the Special Branch of Delhi police reveals that protesting students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) had no initial plans to march towards Parliament. “At the behest of prominent CPI and CPI-M leaders, the student group finally decided on Saturday to lead a march to Parliament on Monday,” says the report of the Special Branch sent to the Police headquarters.

On the basis of intelligence inputs, a heavy contingent of police consisting of 800 constables of local police and ten companies of Central paramilitary force was deployed at JNU while key Metro stations were shut.

On Sunday late evening, government officials held a meeting with a few student groups and requested them not to march towards Parliament where the winter session was to begin. However, the report says Left-supported student organisations, the AISA, SFI and AISF, insisted that the march to Parliament would not be postponed.

Sources said on Monday morning, a mob of students forced its way through by breaking the first line of police barricades. The students were led by a Left-wing union.

The report of Special Branch reveals that after the barricades were broken, the students were pacified. They were told that a high-power committee has been constituted to consider their demands. On persuasion of two senior IPS officers, most students seemed convinced and retracted.

However, after a while, a large group of students, suddenly turned violent and managed to break the barricades and proceeded to New Delhi area through Aurobindo Marg. The police contained the agitated groups at Safdarjung Tomb near Jor Bagh, at the border of New Delhi District.

The report says a particular student organisation again refuelled the situation by raising slogans against the government. Subsequently, over 100 students broke through the barricades and tried to march towards New Delhi district area.

The police spokesman told IANS that later these students had to be detained to prevent the situation from going out of hands. The report says that besides the Left, a few leaders of a prominent opposition party were also backing the agitating students to lead a procession towards Parliament.

(Sanjeev Kumar Singh Chauhan can be contacted at [email protected])

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Clive Owen to play Bill Clinton in ‘Impeachment: American Crime Story’

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Clive Owen on Bill Clinton

Los Angeles, Nov 16 : Oscar-nominated actor Clive Owen will star as Bill Clinton in “Impeachment: American Crime Story”, the third season of the network FXs award-winning limited series franchise, which centers on the sex scandal that rocked the Clinton presidency.

Owen joins Sarah Paulson, who will play Linda Tripp, Beanie Feldstein, who will play Monica Lewinsky, and Annaleigh Ashford, who will play Paula Jones in the limited series, reports aceshowbiz.com.

The role of Hillary Clinton is currently being cast.

“Impeachment…” is written by Sarah Burgess who executive produces alongside returning ACS team Ryan Murphy, Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson, Brad Falchuk, Larry Karaszewski, Scott Alexander, Alexis Martin Woodall and Paulson. Feldstein, Henrietta Conrad and Jemima Khan are also producing.

The limited series is based on Jeffrey Toobin’s bestselling book “A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President”. Toobin’s 1997 book The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson served as the source material for Season 1 of American Crime Story.

Filming on “Impeachment” is set to begin in late March. The limited series is currently slated to premiere on Sunday, September 27, 2020, about a month out from the next US Presidential election, but Murphy recently indicated the date may be in flux as the filming schedule has changed.

Owen’s casting comes in the midst of the impeachment hearing against President Donald Trump. Despite the confluence of events, the current impeachment proceedings are not influencing “Impeachment: ACS”, which chronicles events from two decades ago.

Owen received an Oscar nomination for “Closer” and was most recently seen in “Gemini Man”. On TV, he headlined “The Knick” and will also star opposite Julianne Moore in the limited series “Lisey’s Story”.

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Maharashtra: BJP-Sena split unites a divided Congress-NCP

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Sonia and Udhav Thackeray

Mumbai, Nov 14 : Congress Interim President Sonia Gandhi is said to be a happy woman, smiling and grinning from ear-to-ear over the latest political developments in Maharashtra.

The unexpected split in Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena has come as a boon to the Maharashtra Congress and its ally, Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party, party sources reveal.

It’s well-known that the state Congress has always been a big divided house since years, and also harboured huge differences with its 20-year old ally, the NCP.

Since 1999 to 2014, the Congressmen were either engaged in an in-house crabby battle to pull down each other and simultaneously the NCP, as the latter always seemed to have a political edge, and unwittingly giving a political advantage to the rivals.

Even as late as October, the party-men and party-women were engaged in bitter political skirmishes at all levels, including the powerful Mumbai Congress, which dented its image and with serious repercussions at the hustings both in Lok Sabha and assembly election results.

After the October assembly poll results were announced, the Congress came trumps with 44 seats and NCP with 54 – against 42 and 41 in 2014 respectively – boosting their morale though they were miles away from forming a viable government.

Shortly afterwards, the political landscape changed dramatically with the Shiv Sena splitting from the BJP and the ruling NDA at the centre, and extending a clawy paw to the bewildered Congress-NCP.

As the ‘clock’ ticked away, the two opposition parties were naturally reluctant to extend their ‘hand’ of friendship to a party which was not only harshly critical but downright abusive for nearly 53 years, spanning the eras of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, besides Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

After Sena President Uddhav Thackeray climbed down his pedestal and called Sonia Gandhi for support, shooed away an alleged BJP emissary and Hindutva leader Sambhaji Bhide Guruji, withdrew his sole minister Arvind Sawant from the union cabinet, his intentions became clear.

As the seriousness of the situation unfolded, the Congress-NCP got into the act, presenting an unprecedented picture of unity and camaraderie, and initiated the process of raising a potential tri-partite government with the Sena as the lead partner.

A party leader said Sonia Gandhi was occasionally both amused and bemused to see her warring tribe assuring her in practically one voice that an alliance with the long-perceived enemy Shiv Sena was worth a political gamble to keep BJP at bay.

Though she raised an eyebrow of doubt, the Congress earnestly got down to business, and practically adopted Sharad Pawar as the Mandrake who could perform the unbelievable magic of giving Maharashtra a “MahaShivAghadi” alliance of Congress-NCP-Shiv Sena – in the coming days.

Adopting a magnanimous approach, the 79-year old Pawar also reciprocated by never displaying the NCP’s overzealousness in the government formation, keeping the Congress sentiments ahead of his own.

In fact, soon after the election results, Sonia Gandhi had warmly received and congratulated Pawar at her home in New Delhi for almost single-handedly dragging both the allies out of the political muck, when the BJP-Sena squabble over the power-sharing was just breaking out.

The past few days have seen the recently-divorced Sena being grudgingly accepted by Congress-NCP as a potential key ally, many of their leaders visiting the ailing Sena MP Sanjay Raut – the man who set the ball rolling against the BJP – convalescing in hospital, and displayed other gestures of goodwill.

A cheerful Thackeray – who has undergone a change of wardrobe from his awesome collection of ‘kurta-pyjamas’ to formal shirts-trousers – is seen hopping from one tiresome meeting to another with his newfound future saviours, and hopes to re-establish the Sena’s position as the once-dreaded ‘Big Brother’ in state politics.

After all, it has dawned on him that finally, the time has come for a ‘son-rise’ even in the Thackeray family!

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: [email protected])

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