Businessman Raj Kundra in Mumbai
Businessman Raj Kundra | ANI File Photo
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Mumbai: Forming a company to develop ‘Hotshots’, a mobile application allegedly used to publish porn, helping manage and maintain it, supervising its functioning and monetary dealings through WhatsApp groups, setting up another company to protect Hotshots’ videos from piracy, and having suspiciously large global transfers in bank accounts.

These are some of the allegations that Mumbai Police made against businessman Raj Kundra, actor Shilpa Shetty’s husband, while seeking his custody before a city court Tuesday. ThePrint accessed a copy of the remand application submitted by Mumbai Police in court.

Kundra was arrested Monday for allegedly being a “key conspirator” in a case pertaining to the production and publishing of pornographic films through mobile apps. Production of porn is illegal in India.

Another accused, Ryan Thorpe, who, according to police, is an aide of Kundra and heads the IT cell in a company owned by him, was arrested Tuesday. 

Both are alleged to have dealt in pornographic activity through Hotshots. 

The case in question dates back to February, when Mumbai Police personnel raided a bungalow at Madh Island to bust an alleged racket where young struggling models and actresses were being tricked into producing pornographic videos.  

The Mumbai Police Crime Branch investigated the case and subsequently arrested and chargesheeted nine persons, all of whom are currently on bail. 

In February 2019, Kundra had reportedly invested an undisclosed amount in Armsprime Media, a technology startup that helps celebrities and influencers build and monetise customised mobile apps.

Armsprime, along with a UK-based firm named Kenrin Private Limited, is allegedly associated with Hotshots, which is said to be among the platforms that hosted the aforementioned videos.

Kenrin is owned by Pradeep Bakshi, who, according to the investigation, is a relative of Kundra, sources in Mumbai Police said. 

“After filing a chargesheet against the nine accused on 1 April 2021, we started investigating the persons behind Armsprime Media Private Limited and London-based Kenrin Private Limited,” Mumbai Police said in a statement Tuesday. 

“We found the main conspirator after in-depth investigation and technical analysis of the available email communication, witness statements, subscription data, and porn film production vouchers related to the Hotshots OTT platform,” the statement added.

Kundra and Thorpe have been booked under sections of the Information Technology Act and Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act. 

The Mumbai Esplanade court Tuesday remanded Kundra and Thorpe in police custody till 23 July.

In a statement Monday, Kundra was described by Mumbai Police chief Hemant Nagrale as a “key conspirator” in the case. 

Kundra and Thorpe’s lawyers, however, have raised questions about the case, and denied the allegations levelled at them, saying no porn-related charge is made out against the defendants.


Also read: Watching pornography rewires the brain to a more child-like state


The case so far

On 4 February 2021, the Mumbai Crime Branch, based on a tip-off, raided a bungalow in Madh Island, and allegedly busted a porn production racket. 

Police said they rescued a woman and arrested five persons who were later chargesheeted. Four more arrests followed in the next 10 days.

The accused include television actor Gehana Vasisth, whose original name is Vandana Tiwari; photographer Monu Joshi; creative director Pratibha Nalawade; actors Arish Shaikh and Bhanu Thakur; Rowa Khan alias Yasmeen, who claims to be a producer-director; Kamat, who allegedly worked as Kenrin’s coordinator in India for Hotshots; Dipankar Khasanvis (Khan’s husband); and Tanvir Hashmi.

“We found the involvement of OTT platforms such as Hothit, Neuflicks, Hotshots and so on,” the Mumbai Police’s statement said Tuesday.

According to the police’s submission in court, three women have come forward to complain about the alleged pornography racket so far. 

The women would allegedly be lured into the racket by some of the accused who offered them roles in short films and web series, and be forced to shoot nude images and videos. The accused would allegedly book bungalows in suburban Mumbai for the shoots.


Also read: Desi sex and porn for women — how Indians stuck at home are indulging their secret desires


‘Arrest illegal’

According to the Mumbai Police’s remand application to the court, their investigation revealed that Armsprime Media developed Hotshots for Kenrin on a build-and-transfer basis. 

It was allegedly sold to Kenrin for $25,000 (approx. Rs 18.7 lakh). According to police, Kundra resigned from Armsprime in December 2019, after the sale.

Police say one of the other accused, identified as Umesh Kamat, was the India co-ordinator for Kenrin, under instructions from Kundra, and used to operate from the latter’s office in Andheri.

“During investigation, some obscene/pornographic clips uploaded on Hotshots app have been seized,” the remand application says.

Kundra, police claim, also started certain WhatsApp groups to monitor the functioning of Hotshots, such as ‘HS Take Down’, ‘HS Operations’, and ‘HS Accounts’, and served as group admin. 

The groups were allegedly meant to discuss modalities such as revenue from Hotshots, payments to actors and so on. 

Moreover, Kamat’s laptop allegedly revealed email exchanges with Kenrin owner Bakshi about Hotshots where Kundra was marked as a recipient, the police’s remand application says. Kundra allegedly also founded another company, Avalanche Technologies, which would charge Kenrin to take down pirated copies of Hotshots videos from other websites.

Police claim Thorpe undertook the work of managing Hotshots on Kundra’s directions. Kundra, police say, had — through Thorpe — appointed two employees on the payroll of his company Viaan Industries, a Mumbai-based firm that works in the sectors of entertainment, gaming and animation, to manage Hotshots.

“It has been noticed that large global transfers have been made into the bank accounts of Raj Kundra’s Viaan Industries. It is being understood that these payments were made to maintain the Hotshots app,” police said in the remand application, adding that Kundra’s custody is necessary to investigate this, along with the WhatsApp chats and the Hotshots clips, among other things.

Speaking to ThePrint, advocate Subhash Jadhav, one of the lawyers representing Kundra, described his arrest as illegal. “We have argued in court that the arrest is illegal because a notice under Section 41(A) of the CrPC was not served. The offence is also not made out.”

Section 41(A) of the Code of Criminal Procedure talks about issuing a notice of appearance before police to a person against whom a “reasonable complaint has been made, or credible information has been received, or there is a reasonable suspicion that he has committed a cognisable offence”.

Thorpe’s lawyer Kushal Mor told reporters that the police case so far shows no porn-related allegations against the duo. “Whatever material has been produced by the police till now (against Kundra and Thorpe), nothing related to pornography has come forth. Section 67(A), which is a non-bailable offence, is not applicable here.”

Section 67A pertains to punishment “for publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act, etc, in electronic form”.

In a statement issued after Kundra’s arrest, Vasisth, out on bail in the case, dismissed the allegations about porn, and sought to distinguish it from erotica.

“I have come to know about Raj’s (Kundra) arrest, and I want to say that no one is making porn. These were normal videos, normal erotica like how Ekta Kapoor makes Gandi Baat, Parched and so many other films. It is said that they have found various videos, but I request you all to first watch these videos and then make a judgement. Not a single video comes in the porn category,” she said.

“The law will take its course. We have full faith in Mumbai police, but they should not mix up porn with erotica or bold content,” she added.

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)


Also read: Why it’s time for India to have its own porn star


 

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