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'Jewellery worth Rs 24-25 crores was transferred'

Last updated on: November 25, 2022 21:31 IST
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Indrani was spiritedly telegraphing details of the jewellery from the back of the court...

Vaihayasi Pande Daniel reports from the Sheena Bora Murder Trial.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/

"Stop 'putting it to me', please!" pleaded Rahul Mukerjea angrily and a tad loudly in Courtroom 51 of the Mumbai city civil and sessions sourt, south Mumbai, to Indrani Mukerjea's lawyer Ranjeet Vishnupant Sangle, who mostly began all his questions to Rahul with: "Rahul, I put it to you..."

In the fifth hour of his cross-examination by Sangle on Wednesday November 23, 2022, 51 days after it began, in the Sheena Bora murder trial, Rahul seemed to sort of just snap. Snap not exactly in the sense of that valuable moment defence lawyers sit around waiting for in a courtroom, when they are successful in 'breaking down' a witness.

In this case, it was like the end of the fuse was finally in sight and Rahul had had enough.

Of course, Wednesday it was hard to tell who had had enough.

Fuses were not particularly long all around.

About a two full hours before Rahul Had Enough, Sangle could have called it too. He had been belabouring valiantly with Rahul over one single point for at least a good 25 minutes, till he was actually holding his head in not so mock agony.

There was that sticky but seemingly trivial matter of what time of day/night Rahul Mukerjea had gone to dinner with his father Peter Mukerjea to Oh Calcutta, a Bengali cuisine restaurant in south central Mumbai, on April 26, 2012, two days after the alleged murder. Rahul has been inflexibly maintaining all along that it was lunch and not dinner.

Sangle in his tenacious way was absolutely bent on proving on Wednesday to Rahul that he was wrong. Maybe it was a case of stubborn meets stubborn and Sangle did not want to be outwitted on his turf.

Or it was vital, from the defence's point of view, to show that Rahul had oddly whiled away a whole day with his father two days after Sheena had disappeared, when he should have been looking for her more actively.

After stating to Rahul, "Rahul, I put it to you that on the evening of April 26, 2012, you did have dinner with your father at Oh Calcutta and you have deposed falsely", Sangle went on to show why.

To that end, Sangle gleefully pulled out from the records a small scrap of conversation Rahul and Peter had exchanged, over text, where Peter referred to that meal with Rahul and said '... you know what I said at dinner the other night when we were sitting at Oh Calcutta...'

That didn't matter to Rahul, who said it was "arguing semantics" on calling it dinner or lunch.

Sangle: "You have lied on oath that you had dinner."

Rahul adamant: "No, that's not true" and he later said to Judge Samarendra Prakashrao Naik-Nimbalkar "Sir, it was definitely daylight."

Sangle rushed to bombard him with a reply.

Rahul playing to it cool to Sangle, like he didn't know what the tamasha was all about: "Slow down, slow down. (If) it was evening time but it was light." He added with a tired sigh, "I remember stepping out and the sun being in my eyes."

That really got Indrani going on all engines, who on Wednesday was wearing a white shirt, wide jeans and sporting a Gucci bag. It is pretty evident that Indrani, Accused No 1 in this case, has phenomenal memory, probably better than Accused 2 and Accused 4, her two former husbands, together, and her sharp recollection of facts does help drive the defence material and Sangle knows an ace when he has got one.

She swiftly padded up to Sangle to show something on her iPhone and then went racing out of the courtroom to shanghai some little flicker of a signal and came back victorious (for Indrani victorious is about fairly bursting with excitement and it radiates from her face like a lighthouse).

She had the opening times of the restaurant. Oh Calcutta only opened for dinner at 7 pm, and closed for lunch by 3.30 pm. Sangle neatly placed this fact before Rahul and once again reiterated that Rahul was lying.

But Rahul refused to give up or back down -- the very living definition of defeated, but not down. It was though evident he was quite fed up and was probably seriously wondering why this stray little fact was so important and relevant to alleged murder of his partner and girlfriend Sheena Bora.

He declared he didn't know the times of the restaurant and it was lunch and definitely light when they left.

According to, the sun set at 18.59 on April 26, 2012 in Mumbai.

The Oh Calcutta dinner-lunch clash was one such topic that solidly stirred up tempers quite a bit at Wednesday's cross and was what perhaps caused Rahul to lose it a bit towards the end of the long, aggravating day.

Another was the issue of where Indrani and Sheena had met on April 7, 2012, for a tete-a-tete prior to their last meeting on April 24, after which Sheena was never heard from ever again.

Rahul had apparently randomly said it was at the Taj Land's End hotel in Bandra, north west Mumbai, because he could not remember the name of the hotel and the defence could not conceal their amazement.

There was five minutes of discussion on a message Vidhie Mukerjea, Indrani's third child and her daughter from her marriage with Sanjeev Khanna, had sent Sheena, while Rahul and Sheena were attending the marriage of one of Sheena's dear friends Shriparna in Goa.

The message said 'Mummy is very angry' and something to the effect about what she was going to violently do and prosecution had made hay while the sun shined with this message because they felt it obviously showed what Indrani was capable of.

The message mysteriously appeared twice on Rahul's phone and Rahul, while giving his statements to various investigating agencies, and the magistrate, had only brought it up once during deposition to the magistrate.

In an attempt to clear Indrani's name, Sangle declared "You and Sheena had conspired to make an issue of this message" and that Vidhie had actually never sent such a message.

Before Rahul's outburst and the ugly tiff that began in the courtroom between Rahul and Sangle on Wednesday evening, that was broken up by Judge Naik-Nimbalkar and CBI Special Prosecutor Manoj Chaladan, there was a startling and eye-opening discussion on money and assets.

As per the defence, the moment Indrani was arrested on August 25, 2015, Peter, with lightning speed, for reasons not established, made a series of changes in the way his investments and finances were organised.

Perhaps he lost faith in Indrani after allegedly discovering only then, that she had two other children, or he was safeguarding the money against some unforeseen future situation. Sangle's cross of Rahul tellingly revealed some of the assets Peter and Indrani had at that time.

Rahul went with Peter right after Indrani's arrest -- it is not clear if Rahul's elder brother Rabin was there too -- to the Syndicate Bank branch in Worli, south central Mumbai, and Peter opened a locker and a bank account in his, Rahul's and Rabin's names.

It emerged, as Sangle continued to question Rahul, that "Jewellery worth Rs 24-25 crores was transferred to the locker," some of it "ancestral" jewellery and some "acquired" piece -- Indrani was spiritedly telegraphing details of the kind of jewellery from the back of the court -- which led Rahul to comment with a slightly curious smile and a laugh, "I am not aware and it's a lot of money."

"Rs 70 lakhs" was put in the account for Rahul. And according to Sangle, funds worth "Rs 7 crores" were transferred from "Indrani's India, New Zealand and UK account to Rabin and Peter's joint UK account."

While Rahul told the court that he did indeed recall being present at the bank that day when the new account and locker was opened and remembered signing papers to that effect for the bank account, he was not aware of the transfer of money and assets, not even of the Rs 70 lakhs to his account and "I don't know if it was in my name or not."

He added charmingly, with mock bewildered humour, "Nobody was ever giving me any money!" And the court laughed with him.

Sangle checked if Rahul had been pressured to be part of this money reorganisation operation and whose call had it been. He said it was Peter's decision and there was no pressure. He explained he didn't/doesn't have the passbook and other requisite documents to operate the account. He was not aware of the purpose of this restructuring by Peter in 2015.

Peter's face was a total blank in the courtroom, like he didn't know either!

Peter, after Indrani was taken into police custody, also notified the society of the Marlow building, where he lived in Worli, of the change in nomination for his flat.

He stopped the transfer of the flat into the name of his adopted daughter Vidhie Mukerjea (Peter had adopted her after this marriage to Indrani). Rabin's name was added instead. Again Rahul said he was not really aware, but knew "something was going on."

Similar alterations were made to his will and insurance policies of which Rahul once again articulated he was not in the know of, adding that he thought all Peter's assets were going to the three of them equally and looking at Peter at the back of the court, he continued: "Needless to say, my father is very much alive."

He later passed the remark on hearing that even some of Indrani's jewellery was being willed to him and his brother and not Vidhie: "I don't know how my father could will someone else's belongings. It sounds incorrect to me."

At the end of the assets segment of the cross-examination, Sangle declared, of course, to Rahul and the court that Rahul did know of all these financial goings on.

Towards the closing of Wednesday's proceedings, when Sangle roundly and rather authoritatively, as is his habit and his skill as an advocate, doubted whether Rahul and his mother Shabnam Anand Singh had really even filed a missing person's complaint for Sheena at the MIDC police station, Andheri, north west Mumbai, as he has said he had.

Rahul, who is usually composed, always the cool dude with the earrings, and not so easy to ruffle, in this courtroom at least, started to grow angry.

Perhaps he was upset that Sangle could doubt that he would have done whatever he could in his power to find out what had happened to Sheena, who he has said many times he loved very much. Or remarks relating to his mom, a wonderfully devoted Indian mother, who had been sitting outside the courtroom faithfully all through, were a no go. Or Sangle's tone hurt him.

He said to Sangle with red-hot anger: "This whole thing is an attempt to distort reality" and part added and part asked "if that is what your job is."

For a moment, Sangle did not react and then asked furiously "You want to know what my job is?!!"

Rahul: "I really don't."

Judge Naik-Nimbalkar to Rahul: "Don't pass unnecessary remarks."

It seemed like the disquiet had blown over and the anger for both had passed, petered out.

But Rahul's remark had upset Sangle, who hit back with the question: "Is it not correct that in 2015 you asked a girl for a nude picture?"

There were objections to this query from the judge.

Sangle: "But he is asking what my job is?!"

Judge Naik-Nimbalkar: "Can't ask questions on a personal basis."

Chaladan, tsk-tsking: "Ask proven questions. This is too much!"

Judge Naik-Nimbalkar reasoned with Sangle and offered "He is a layman. We are officers of the court."

But Sangle would not shake it off and subsequently asked Rahul if he was not "a professionally-trained actor..."

The judge queried if this was yet another question about the acting course Rahul had taken at Anupam Kher's acting academy some years ago because he wanted to become an actor and a model.

Sangle rephrased: "A professional actor, habitual criminal and consistent liar."

Not exactly knowing where Sangle's question was leading or hearing the latter half of it, Rahul protested modestly with a smile, "I just did a three-month course" and he didn't think that made him an actor.

Several questions followed in quick succession that were more like accusations, "Rahul, I put it to you, that you, your mother and Sheena (participated) in a conspiracy of the sham disappearance of Sheena...

Rahul quickly right back: "Incorrect. Completely false."

Sangle suddenly out of the blue: "I put it to you that you were not aware of all the three paternities of her three pregnancies (that were "medically terminated" he added later)..."

There was an uncomfortably long moment of shocked silence in the court.

Chaladan then quickly stood up: "Scandulous. Show proof. Is there any proof she had undergone an abortion?"

He also added something to the effect that Rahul was protected or "governed by the witness act." He additionally said it was "not a question to be asked" and that it was insulting the character of the deceased.

Sangle would not climb down and said it was an issue that the CBI had brought up in their investigation: "That the CBI asked it is irrelevant?"

The judge joined in, resolutely supporting Chaladan's objections: "Assault of the character of the deceased. The question is scandalous. Character assault nahin (will not happen in this court). I will not allow assault to the character of the deceased."

Later, the judge read this rule or condition to Sangle from a law or judge's manual.

But Sangle tried the three pregnancies question again.

Rahul first said he was not aware and then in a strong, aggressive voice, defending his missing Sheena, went one step further: "Actually, I don't believe that at all!".

Sangle started up some questions to Rahul about his and Sheena's visits to Dehradun and her meetings with Rahul's mother, but slipped in a question about how "after your parents' divorce your father's driver Prashant Chakraborty was sneaking information to your mother about Peter and Indrani."

Rahul finally said in a tired and annoyed way: "Stop 'putting it to me', please!"

The judge looked quite concerned -- Judge Naik-Nimbalkar is very protective of a witness like they are guests in his court, always expressing solicitude and looks out for their welfare -- asked if Rahul needed a break.

Rahul said they could go on, but that he hoped the cross would finally finish today.

A few more questions followed.

Sangle: "I put it to you, that you have on purpose not put an FIR in any police station or let anyone else (do so)."

Rahul forcefully: "I put it back to you that you are wasting everyone's time."

Sangle, voice rising, his face going grim again: "Excuse me?!"

Matters flared up once more and the courtroom once again became a boxing arena.

Indrani seemed to be enjoying the new court weather, watching with fascination the goings on from her perch.

Peter's face was dark and he was scowling furiously.

Sangle finally: "Rahul, who did you murder in the silver Maruti Alto on or around July 22, 2012 which you abandoned at the domestic airport?"

Rahul, with vigour: "I didn't and I never would."

Sangle didn't stop and announced: "He is a criminal."

There was another one of those lengthy awkward silences -- a kind of hush.

Sangle insisted. "He admitted it. He forged his marriage certificate."

Rahul plaintively: "Sir do I have to come back tomorrow for more of this?!"

Sangle wanted the judge to take some action against the witness for his demeanour and passing rude comments.

There was much arguing. The judge finally made a note in the record about both the lawyer and the witness and what they needed not to do.

And never could the end of a day in court come sooner.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/

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