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|May 8, 1999||
Bina Ramani, husband, daughter released on bail
The Jessica Lal murder case took a new turn this morning when the Delhi police arrested socialite Bina Ramani, her husband Georges Mailhot, and daughter Malini under the Excise Act and impounded their passports to prevent them leaving the country.
All three were produced before the duty magistrate at the Patiala courts who released them on a surety of Rs10,000 each and a bond of like amount.
Earlier, the capital was agog with rumours of the impending arrest of Ramani, allegedly because Union Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani, whose department supervises the Delhi police, did not want to give the impression that she was getting away because of her Sindhi connections.
According to reliable sources, Advani summoned Delhi Lieutenant Governor Vijai Kapoor and asked him why Ramani and her kin had not been arrested despite the various offences they are said to have committed.
Following this, Kapoor ordered the arrests today.
But Joint Commissioner of Police Amod Kanth, who is leading the investigation, denied this: "Why should the home minister intervene in a matter like this? We had been on the job for some time and once we completed our investigations, we decided to book them under the relevant provisions of the Excise Act."
Meanwhile, H R Suhel Khan, advocate for Amardeep Singh Gill alias Tony and Alok Khanna, the alleged accomplices of prime accused Manu Sharma alias Siddharth Vashisht, expressed shock at Ramani's arrest under the Excise Act.
"I was thinking the arrest of Bina Ramani, Malini Ramani and Georges Mailhot for destruction of evidence in the murder case would reduce the burden of my clients. I am surprised that they were instead arrested for violating the Excise Act, which is a bailable offence."
Khan added, "Though my clients were also booked for bailable offences, they were denied bail while they [Ramani and her family] have been bailed out."
But Balwant Malik, a colleague of leading advocate Rani Jethmalani who is the counsel for Ramani and her family, was jubilant. "When I came to know that my clients have been arrested under the Excise Act, I went to the police station and offered bail, but the officer told me that they would produce them in court and I would have to argue the case there. They were all arrested under sections 61 and 68 of the Excise Act. Both these offences are bailable. I argued before the magistrate that it was a friendly party and they were not selling any liquor. There is no documentary evidence to prove that. Nor were the liquor bottles and glasses found from their personal possessions. So the charges were baseless and my clients had been falsely implicated," he said.
Jethmalani said the police should do some introspection about their act and decide if it was right. But asked why her client had not done the same and procured a licence before running a bar, she said Ramani was a law-abiding citizen and had applied for a licence a year ago. But while four ministries had cleared it, the excise department had withheld sanction. "In any case, my client was holding a friendly party, therefore the question of excise violation does not arise," she said.
The arrests shocked the capital's elite. "Before judging Bina we should carefully weigh what she has given the social circles in Delhi and what has been her contribution to enhancing Delhi's heritage. Just because an incident took place in her restaurant does not mean we should be so unfair to her," argued another socialite.
Meanwhile, Manu Sharma's relatives have also reached Delhi to prepare his defence. They have been telling the media sordid tales of how the police threatened them to force Sharma's surrender. "There were threats to liquidate us. We had no choice but to ask him to give himself up," claimed one.
The Delhi police also picked up today a friend of Manu Sharma, named Amit Jhingan, for allegedly ordering the cleaning up of the bloodstains from the scene of the murder. Jhingan was in the 'Once Upon A Time' restaurant when Jessica Lal was shot dead.
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