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The wild, wacky case of Vickram Bedi

Last updated on: December 2, 2010 10:29 IST

Is this a legal case? Or a Hollywood film plot?

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Vickram Bedi will be tried before a New York court on Thursday for allegedly defrauding a Grammy Award-winning musician of millions of dollars.

But the facts of the case sound like the plot of some very bizarre Hollywood movie. Anvar Alikhan digs up the story.

On December 2, Vickram Bedi will be tried in the Mount Kisco court, Westchester County, New York. The facts of the case sound like the plot of some very bizarre, very funny Coen Brothers movie.

In August 2004, the 58-year-old Grammy-winning music composer, Roger Davidson, discovered a virus on his computer, which he feared might wipe out years of music that he had composed and stored on it. So he took the computer to be cleaned by Datalink, a computer store run by Bedi in Westchester County, one of the wealthiest localities in the US.

What exactly happened after that depends on whose version you choose to believe.

According to Davidson, when he went to get his computer back, Bedi told him the virus had been the most malicious he'd ever seen -- so dangerous that it had, in fact, affected all of Datalinks' other computers.

Bedi said he'd tracked the virus down to a remote part of Honduras. He then told Davidson that he had an uncle in the Indian military, who could be sent to Honduras on a clandestine mission to locate the virus's source -- for a suitable fee, of course.

Presumably few musicians can afford to pay for such highly specialised computer security services but, as Bedi had found out, Davidson is no ordinary musician: he's the great-grandson of a founder of the Fortune 500 oil-field services company, Schlumberger, and heir to a multi-million dollar trust fund.

Once Davidson agreed to Bedi sending his military officer uncle to Honduras, he got sucked deeper and deeper into this bizarre scam.


Image: Police mug shots of Vickram Bedi and his girlfriend Helga Invarsdottir
Photographs: Anvar Alikhan
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Bedi portrayed himself as a CIA agent

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A few days later, Bedi informed Davidson that the mission had been successful -- his uncle had flown to Honduras, supposedly in an Indian military aircraft, and retrieved the hardware that had unleashed the virus.

That was the good news; but the bad news was that he had, in the process, uncovered classified information that the virus attack was just part of a larger conspiracy -- a conspiracy to assassinate Davidson, hatched by Opus Dei, the secret religious order featured in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.

Davidson panicked when he heard this, but Bedi told him not to worry; as it happened he himself was working with the Cental Intelligence Agency on security systems to prevent Opus Dei from infiltrating the US government, so, fortunately for Davidson, he was well positioned to protect him against the evil priests who were being sent to Westchester County to assassinate him.

Davidson gratefully agreed to pay for not only Bedi's computer protection services, but also for 24-hour personal protection services for himself and his family. (A video (external link) of Davidson at one of his music concerts on youtube.com, for example, shows the burly Bedi looming intimidatingly behind him, in bodyguard mode.)

Thus, over the next six years, Bedi's company would charge Davidson a monthly fee of $160,000 (about Rs 73.5 lakhs/Rs 7.35 million) for so-called 'security' and other services rendered. Local authorities say the total amount involved could be as much as $20 million (about Rs 90 crore/Rs 900 million).


Image: Roger Davidson

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It was almost like brainwashing, said the local police

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Over this period, Bedi and his attractive blonde Icelandic girlfriend, Helga Invarsdottir, also became Davidson's closest confidantes, to the extent that he appointed them as vice-president and treasurer of the Society for Universal Sacred Music that he had founded.

But even more tellingly, he appointed Bedi as co-trustee of his $60 million (about Rs 270 crore/Rs 2.7 billion) family trust, a position in which he would be involved in Davidson's financial and investment matters.

In January 2010, Bedi and Davidson filed a suit against investment company Wachovia, claiming that it had coerced them into making overly risky investments, which had resulted in a loss of $12.5 million (about Rs 56.25 crore/Rs 565.2 million) to the trust. (It later turned out that transaction authorisation forms had Bedi's signature on them.)

According to the local police chief, Bedi and Invarsdottir 'were isolating the victim and trying to control every dollar he had. They did it very systematically and infiltrated every aspect of his life. It was almost a brainwashing technique.'

The scam first came to light in August 2010, when two local residents complained to the police that GPS tracking devices had been clandestinely installed in their cars by someone.

The culprit turned out to be Davidson, who had planted the GPS devices to verify Bedi's claim that these people were, in fact, Opus Dei assassins who had moved in to the neighbourhood to kill him. He was, finally, coming to the conclusion that he had been right royally suckered.

The police connected all the dots and, on November 4, they arrested Bedi and Invarsdottir, apparently just as they were planning to flee the country for Iceland, where her father Ingvar Karlsson is a prominent businessman.

The police recovered bank accounts worth $7.6 million (about Rs 34.2 crore) from the couple, as well as property deeds, jewellery and several cars -- not to mention $150,000 (about Rs 67.5 lakhs/Rs 6.75 million) stashed under the bed.

So, is that the full story?

So far we have mainly heard Roger Davidson's version of it. But Bedi gives a very different angle to things.

In a jailhouse interview, Bedi recently said, 'Roger's story is not accurate.'

According to him, Davidson first brought his virus-infected computer to him, partly because of the music he had saved on it, but more importantly, because of a highly-sensitive correspondence between his family and its lawyers, in connection with an effort to transfer their $400 million (about Rs 1,800 crore/Rs 18 billion) fortune from the tax-haven of Liechtenstein back to the US, in the guise of an inheritance.

Davidson apparently feared that the viruses might have been planted on the computer by the US and French governments in an effort to get evidence that would help them recover 60 years of unpaid taxes. (Bedi also says with relish that there were 'massive amounts of pornography' on the computer, but that, of course, is somewhat irrelevant to the issue.)

About the supposed Opus Dei plot, Bedi claims that was, in fact, Davidson's fantasy: He believed an estranged uncle of his, who had joined Opus Dei, was trying to get his revenge on the family by hiring high-end hackers to expose their tax fraud.

And the story about the Honduras computer virus? This too was part of Davidson's fantasy, says Bedi: Davidson thought his uncle was in Honduras and jokingly referred to one of his computers as the 'Honduras hard drive'.

Bedi doesn't deny that he received millions of dollars from Davidson, but he insists there was no element of coercion in it. 'Roger was generous with us,' he says simply. 'He liked us. We were keeping him calm.'

According to him, Davidson gave him a contract for $10.9 million (about Rs 49 crore/Rs 490 million) and his girlfriend a gift of $1.8 million (about Rs 8 crore/Rs 80 million) because they had recovered 30 years of his musical compositions from his computer.

He was also afraid that the tax authorities would finally get all the money, and said that 'at least he had done something good with the money'.

But then their relationship started getting strange, Bedi says. Davidson started making sexual advances on Helga Invarsdottir, and when the couple objected to this, he merely said he was high-born and could do whatever he wanted.

Meanwhile, Invarsdottir's father Ingvar Karlsson has his own version. According to him, Davidson had been having an affair with his daughter, despite the fact that he's a married man, and almost old enough to be her father. While she is innocent of any crime, he says, her position has been compromised by this affair.

So what, really, is the truth?


Image: Vickram Bedi with Roger Davidson

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Bedi likes to brag about his connections

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We'll have to wait for the all the evidence to be produced in court over the next few weeks for the truth to emerge. But, as always, the truth could probably be some combination of both versions.

On the one hand, Bedi is probably not beyond pulling a fast one if he gets the opportunity.

For example, a quick search on the Internet leads you to a page that claims that he 'developed the world's first Pentium-based laptop in 1994'; that his father was 'appointed to the Science and Advisory Commission of India' by Indira Gandhi; and that his great-grandfather 'built the railway line between Lahore and Delhi, including the Jamuna Bridge' and was, inexplicably, 'awarded the Victoria Cross' (Britain's highest award for bravery in combat), at the age of 63.

Bedi's the kind of guy who apparently brags about his connections to people like George W Bush and Vladimir Putin, and likes to show off a photograph taken of himself and his girlfriend with President Barack Obama -- taken after donating $20,000 (about Rs 9 lakhs/Rs 900,000) to the Democratic Party.

On the other hand, Roger Davidson has retained the services of a prominent PR firm, Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communication to interface with the media which might suggest that it's more than just a simple tale of a naive musician being conned by a pair of wildly imaginative hucksters.


Image: Bedi and Helga Invarsdottir with US President Barack Obama

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'Roger has turned a civil dispute into a criminal matter'

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I phoned Bedi at his home in Chappaqua, Westchester County, New York state, to speak to him. A lady picked up the phone. Our conversation went like this:

May I speak to Vickram Bedi, please?

Who's speaking?

I'm a journalist from India.

I'm sorry he can't come to the phone now.

I know he must be under a lot of pressure, but I really would like to speak to him.

Please call later.

May I know who's speaking?

I'm his mother.

When would it be convenient to speak to him, ma'am?

Next week. Which paper do you write for?/P>

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What's that?

I try to explain.

We need your support. You must make your voice heard -- you must make it heard here in the US. You can't believe what they've done to us.

What have they done, ma'am?

It's too terrible, you can't believe it.

Maybe if I can speak to him.

No, no, not now. Call next week. End of next week. (Click.)

So, I haven't in fact been able to speak to Bedi, not yet anyway. But he apparently said somewhat ruefully to an American journalist, 'Roger has turned a civil dispute into a criminal matter'.

It's a telling line, and one can perhaps read a lot into it. Be that as it may, if convicted in that criminal matter he could get up to 25 years in prison.


Image: The offices of Datalink

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