An inside look at the life and loves of Niira Radia
Niira Radia, a key figure in the 2G spectrum scam and a lobbyist for top businessmen like Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani lived a colourful life. Starting life with a string of failures, she hit the big time only when she set up shop in India. Here's her story as told by criminal lawyer RK Anand, who has watched her at close quarters.
VK Shashikumar & Tejas Patel
Special to FirstPost from THL- Mediagrove
A lot has been written about Niira Radia, the corporate lobbyist whose manoeuverings have shaken the nation and the government, and sent some top politicians and bureaucrats to jail. But a new book by one of India's top criminal lawyers "reveals the vivid, scintillating and deeply intimate account of the ways, wiles, and psychological dimensions of Niira Radia".
The book, Close encounters with Niira Radia, written by criminal lawyer RK Anand, is a tell-all account of the character and the con games of Radia.
While recounting his first meeting with Radia,Anand writes: “Early during the Summer of 1996, an impeccably attired young woman with large, smiling yet deep-set eyes, a full lip-glossed mouth, and frizzy hair that fell about her shoulders in a loose Joan Baez kind of free fall wearing a snazzy outfit, entered my Delhi office."
"The lady had entered India following an avalanche of business failures in London. Even though she knew no influential person when she landed in India, within a span of seven years, politicians, government officials, the police, media stars, top businessmen were putty in her hands and her wealth grew by leaps and bounds," Anand writes in his book. The following are key excerpts from his book.
Niira's trial of failures: All early ventures flopped
"Her biodata, until she came to India, bespeaks a woeful and sorrowful tale of a string of business and personal failures abroad. Niira moved to London from Kenya in the 1970s. Schooled at the University of Warwick, she was one of three siblings and a mother of three from what turned out to be an unsuccessful marriage to Janak. Here’s her London business track record:
* Travel Network Ltd. The company was incorporated on July 22, 1988. Niira Radia was the Company Secretary and her then husband, Janak Radia, was a director in a company set up to “carry on business as travel agents, tourists agents, operators and contractors.” It was dissolved by the Registrar of Companies on July 20, 1993.
* Pallavian Tours Ltd. The company was founded on February 7, 1989, with Janak Radia as Director. This too was set up “to carry on all or any of the businesses of travel agents and dealers in aircraft, motor cars, coaches, vans and other vehicles.” It was dissolved on December 10, 1991.
* Sedgecrest Ltd. Incorporated on October 8, 1990 and dissolved on July 26, 1994, the nature of the business undertaken by this company is not specified in the records. Niira Radia was the Company Secretary and Director.
* Travel 1st Ltd. The company was incorporated on September 10, 1992. Niira Radia was a Director in this company. It was established “to carry on in all its branches the business of travel agents and organizers tour operators, to own work, manage and trade in ships aircrafts and motor and other vehicles.” Travel 1st Ltd was dissolved on June 13, 1995.
* Holidays to Treasure Ltd. The company was incorporated on November 15, 1993 and dissolved on September 12, 1995. Niira Radia is listed in the records as a Director in this company. According to the company’s memorandum of association, its goal was to “carry on business as tour operators … to carry on business as airline brokers and operators.”
* Crownmart Ltd. Registered on February 19, 1992, this “general business” enterprise was the real Radia Incorporated. The listed shareholders are Radia’s father, Iqbal Narain Menon (1 per cent), and her three sons, Akshay Radia, Karan Radia and Akash Raida (33 percent each). Radia’s sister, Karuna Menon, was the Company Secretary. At the time of commencing bankruptcy proceedings in February 1995, the liabilities of Crownmart Ltd were just under pounds 100,000.
* Destinations Worldwide Ltd. (formerly known as Danny’s Travel Ltd. And Trimex London Ltd). A travel agency business, originally called Trimex London in August 1989, in which Niira Radia, her father, Iqbal Menon, and sister, Karuna Menon, were shareholders. Its outstanding liabilities at the time of beginning the bankruptcy proceedings in 1994 were close to pounds 800,000.
* Arlington Holidays Ltd (previously Maya Holidays Limited). Founded on July 25, 1989, Niira Radia and her father, Iqbal Narain, exited the firm as shareholders in the first half of 1993. The firm commenced winding up in August 1993, two months after Radia’s exit. Its outstanding liabilities at the time were close to pounds 500,000."
The turning point: Subrata Roy of Sahara
Niira makes her entry in 1995 into India as a liaison officer in the Sahara Group. Her interaction with India’s soil seems to have transformed her. There’s no other way of describing this phenomenon except that of a metamorphosis. Colleagues who first interacted with this jet-set like personality “from abroad” say she had a “magical quality,” a “charming personality.” Now a bewitching, handsome woman looking way younger than her early 40 years of age, she lets loose all the allure and glamour at her disposal with an imperious yet colloquial command over the English language with an ability to break into girlie talk or choice Punjabi.
Her technical proficiency about the travel business and aviation, government policies and the Foreign Investment Promotion Board stun all those who meet her. It is obvious that what she had learned about doing business in India while she was in London had more relevance to her performing in India rather than in the UK where these skills may have been only of marginal value. An Indian woman speaking charming English in Wembley is hardly as charismatic as that same woman speaking fluent English in New Delhi. Her knowledge, poise and command of herself, her presentation skills—in short the gift of the gab—her friends said, would make any Indian Prime Minister sit up and listen to her and take her seriously.
Face to face with the most powerful of people she had the capacity to be at ease and relax every muscle in her face. No wonder she began getting her way.
Her first success story was with Subrata Roy’s Sahara Airlines. The company was facing problems with the commercial department at Delhi Airport. Instead of following the beaten track of requesting and then awaiting a formal meeting in a government or corporate office, Niira domineeringly summoned a meeting of five top officials at her house in Delhi to highlight problems and find swift solutions. One of those who attended the meeting was senior Sahara Executive, Rao Dheeraj Singh, one of Subarta Roy’s top brains trusters and go-getters.
The meeting was not just to solve Sahara’s problems. It was also one of the devices used by Niira to evaluate and recruit prospective partners and associates whom she could use in the future to promote her own business interests that were foremost to her heart. Organisations like Sahara were stepping stones on which she tested her own sure-footedness, increased her knowledge and observed, like a panther looming for prey from high ground, potential people to satiate her personal business appetite.
Following the meeting, she called Singh and showered generous praise on his abilities and style of working as well as being an adept problem-solver.
Barely had a month passed when she asked Singh to her office and confided in him that she was taking up a new, private assignment in Mumbai: To revive an old hotel—Searock on historic Marine Drive—controlled by Chandru Punjabi. Then a direct offer to Singh: Would he care to join her? Singh found it interesting and challenging. Besides, he found Niira to be brainy, eye-catching and delightful. He quit Sahara Airlines in March 1996 and joined Niira as her top executive. At the time Singh was married to Anjum who had been working in Jet Airways in Delhi. Anjum remained in Delhi while Singh moved to Mumbai to begin his new assignment.
Niira’s immediate task for Hotel Searock was to make financial flow charts and elicit the interest of foreign hotel management companies. But this venture was hardly her first love.
The first real deal
During this period, as Singh relates it, he and Radia traveled together to Bahrain to discuss a financial proposal involving an acquisition. They were accompanied by Sahara Airlines CEO, UK Bose, as one of the participants in the deal.
That trip wasn’t without consequence to Singh’s personal life. Talk flowed freely within family circles of an affair between Niira and Singh. As a result Anjum and Singh were divorced.
Following the business trip and negotiations in Bahrain Niira and Singh were able to swing a big deal: Sahara bought five helicopters from Eurocopters. The two business associates made a huge sum of money as their commission through a middle London-based company called Sofema. Singh has stated for the record that in order to bring that money into India he and Niira made several trips to London and Dubai.
With the money now safely in their hands following the helicopter deal Niira and Singh became closer not only as partners but also emotionally. She moved from her residence in the Safdarjung Development Area (a house owned by former wrestling champ and film star Dara Singh) to Sudesh farms at Asola. This is a posh suburb and signalled a mighty leap upwards in Niira’s social status.
During this period, she brought her three sons and her sister to India. Her ambitions were soaring. She had always wanted to be the top boss of a top business. So she now incorporated Crownmart International Pvt Ltd as an Indian company.
She incorporated yet another company under the name of Mount International Pvt Ltd for export of marble and granite. Niira and Singh decided to share their increasing workload with Singh’s cousins, Rahul and Chetan.
Since Niira had already demonstrated her ability to sell helicopters, Sofema offered them two more business opportunities—supply of helicopters to the Maharashtra and Karnataka Governments. Both governments had made their intentions known.
In what then looked like a gigantic act of self-confidence and leap of faith Niira took Singh along with her to London to sign this contract with Sofema even though there are strictures forbidding the use of middlemen and commission agents in the purchase of helicopters by the state governments. And nor had either government yet inked the deal.
At a personal level, Singh, Niira and her kids were living together like a family. Actually, at social gatherings, she began introducing herself as the wife of Rao Dheeraj Singh. She signed as his wife not only for social invitations but also certified this in the issuance of insurance certificates."
Fresh trouble for Sahara: Aamby Valley gets Rs 24,647 cr I-T notice, biggest tax penalty on any corporate
The penalty indicating tax evasion attempts made by the company comes at a time when the Supreme Court has ordered auction of Aamby Valley to raise the money the group has to pay back the investors.
Roy, who was present in courtroom today, had told the court that he will pay Rs 1,500 crore on or before 15 June and Rs 552.22 crore exactly a month thereafter.
The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) roped in HDFC Realty and SBI Cap after being asked by the Supreme Court to initiate the process of selling Sahara properties whose titles have been deposited with it by the group.