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Porn films not the first Raj Kundra controversy. His life can inspire ‘how not to make money’

Actor Shilpa Shetty's husband Raj Kundra has courted trouble through the years, from cricket betting and gold scandal to alleged deals with gangsters and now porn films.

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Mumbai: On 19 July, Ripu Sudan Kundra, actor Shilpa Shetty’s husband who goes by the alias Raj Kundra, posted a video clip of the popular tank chase scene from the James Bond movie GoldenEye on his Instagram feed. Except, instead of actor Pierce Brosnan booming “I am Bond, James Bond,” the dialogue was delivered by Kundra. The caption read, “Roadblocks are temporary. Nothing can stop you.”

The post was almost prescient. Later that evening, the Mumbai Police arrested Kundra for allegedly being a key conspirator in producing and publishing porn.

The Instagram post, which Kundra had hash-tagged as ‘Monday motivation’, pretty much sums up how the 45-year-old has led his life so far.

For Kundra, life has been a string of controversies, several loss-making companies, and business ventures that were wound up within just a few years. But, unperturbed, the UK-born businessman has always carried a ‘larger than life’ aura around him, moving on from one project to another, one company to another.

Over the years, Kundra has associated himself with 36 companies in India and four in the United Kingdom, dabbling in sectors such as entertainment, real estate, gems and jewellery, hospitality, sports and apparel.

All the four UK-registered businesses have been wound up, according to information from the UK government’s Company Information Service. Of the 36 companies that Kundra has been a director of in India over the years, six have been now struck off.

Kundra is still on the board of eight Indian companies, including the loss-making Viaan Industries, at the centre of Mumbai Police’s investigation in the pornography case; Bastian Hospitality, a popular fine-dining seafood restaurant chain in Mumbai; and JL Stream, which is a live-streaming, gaming and entertainment app.

Kundra is currently in jail in connection with the pornography case. While Kundra’s lawyers have described his arrest as “illegal”, Shetty said in a social media statement this month that she has “full faith in Mumbai Police and the Indian judiciary”.

“Yes, the past few days have been challenging on every front. There have been a lot of rumours and accusations. A lot of unwarranted aspersions on me cast by the media and (not so) well wishers as well. A lot of trolling/questions posed not only to me but also to my family. My stand I have not commented yet and will continue to refrain from doing so as the matter is subjudice…” she said.

The Bombay High Court last week rejected Kundra’s plea challenging his arrest. Kundra had argued that his arrest was illegal as police had not issued a notice under Section 41(A) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which was mandatory, but the court said police’s actions were within “conformity of law”.

While seeking bail in a Mumbai sessions court, Kundra said there is no evidence to show his involvement in the case and no obscenity is being made out in the material the police claims to have in its possession. The Mumbai police opposed his plea in court Tuesday.


Also read: Reports based on police sources not defamatory, says Bombay HC on Shilpa Shetty’s plea


A Juhu bungalow, a Lamborghini 

According to the Mumbai Police, Kundra was managing Hotshots, the mobile app through which he allegedly circulated pornography, through his company Viaan Industries. There were also large global transfers into the firm’s bank accounts that the police believe were made to maintain the Hotshots app.

Kundra and Shetty acquired BSE-listed Viaan Industries, then known as Hindusthan Safety Glass Industries Limited, in 2014 and changed its name. This is the one time when their net worth was formally calculated and published in the public domain. According to the information provided by the couple in the open offer letter for purchasing Hindusthan Safety Glass, Kundra’s net worth in 2014 was Rs 31.61 crore and Shetty’s was Rs 58.56 crore.

Viaan Industries, which is into retail trading, entertainment, and recreation, is currently in the red, having reported a loss of Rs 1.6 crore in 2020-21, according to records from the Registrar of Companies (RoC). Shetty resigned as a director of the company on 24 July 2020, a year before the alleged pornography scandal came to light.

But, throughout the hits and misses and the roadblocks and controversies, Kundra has ensured he stays on the society pages of newspapers, rubbing shoulders with Bollywood bigwigs. He lives in Mumbai’s most elite film industry address, the coastal upscale suburb of Juhu, in Kinara, a palatial sea-facing bungalow.

File photo of Raj Kundra and wife Shilpa Shetty posing in Rajasthan Royals jerseys as they head for a match | Twitter | @TheRajKundra
File photo of Raj Kundra and wife Shilpa Shetty posing in Rajasthan Royals jerseys as they head for a match | Twitter | @TheRajKundra

He has unabashedly flaunted his opulence, showering his actor wife Shetty with lavish gifts such as a blue Lamborghini and apartments in central London, Noida and Dubai’s plush Burj Khalifa. In 2011, Kundra bid for Hindustan Unilever’s property, Gulita, at the Worli promenade, which the Piramals ultimately purchased for Rs 450 crore.

In 2013, Kundra even published a fiction novel, How Not to Make Money, the title of which inspired many jokes and memes after his arrest last month.

He glides through life with the confidence of a wealthy, successful business tycoon. However, Kundra is not necessarily popular, a senior entertainment journalist ThePrint spoke to said.

“Shilpa is sweet and popular, whereas Raj Kundra doesn’t really have friends of his own in the industry. He has leveraged her name, her connections to get into businesses and build whatever he has. He comes across as arrogant, wears his riches on his sleeves, and walks around like a zillionaire,” the journalist who did not wish to be named said.

“But, the general idea in the industry is that he is a punter,” she added.


Also read: Watching, publishing, sharing pornography: What is a crime in India and what isn’t


The UK-born businessman

There’s one story that Kundra has always told in the few interviews that he has given to the media — that of his rags to riches fairytale transformation.

“I come from a humble background. My dad moved to London 45 years ago and worked as a bus conductor, whereas my mother worked in a factory. We never had it easy,” Kundra had told entertainment magazine Filmfare in an interview in 2013.

“Whenever Shilpa checks me for spending carelessly, I tell her I have no qualms about enjoying the money I have made. My anger pushed me. I hated poverty so much that I wanted to become rich,” he said at the same interview.

On his website, Kundra talks about how he dropped out of college at the age of 18 and started his career as an entrepreneur importing Pashmina shawls from Nepal and supplying them to London’s fashion houses.

“By networking the contacts I had built over the years, I was presented with various business opportunities in which I made small investments across the board from mining to real estate, renewable energy to entertainment and hospitality. Not all did well, but all taught me something new.”

In 2004, UK’s Success magazine named Kundra as the 198th richest British Asian. But, the entrepreneur really shot into the limelight only after he started dating Shetty soon after she won the Big Brother television reality show in 2007. Kundra had helped Shetty launch her perfume, S2, at the time.

Kundra’s then-wife, Kavita, had publicly blamed Shetty for helping their marriage destruct, a charge that the actor has vehemently denied. He left behind an infant daughter, Deleena, when he walked out of his marriage. In 2009, Kundra and Shetty got married in a traditional south Indian-style ceremony at Khandala, a hill station near Mumbai.

Kundra had four companies in the UK, with three of these — Vita Pictures, Vita Corporation, and UK Tradecorp — being in partnership with his former wife, Kavita. All four companies have now been dissolved.

According to the UK government’s Company Information Service, Kundra’s very first registered venture in the UK was RK Collections, a wholesale clothing and footwear company, with his sister Renu Rani Kundra. Incorporated in 1999, the company soon ran into rocky waters. In 2001, a companies court in the UK ordered RK Collections to wind up, based on the petition of HM (Her Majesty’s) Commissioners of Customs and Excise. The company was finally dissolved in June 2019.

Of the other three companies in which he was a director with his first wife Kavita, Vita Pictures and Vita Corporation were incorporated in 2004 to do business in motion pictures and video production and distribution but were dissolved in 2009 and 2010, respectively. UK Tradecorp was incorporated in 2002, but passed a resolution to wind up in an extraordinary general meeting in 2005. The firm was eventually dissolved in 2014 after settling all its creditors.


Also read: Shilpa Shetty’s husband Raj Kundra could soon face money laundering charges in porn case


From IPL matches and after-parties to allegations of betting

Kundra shifted base to Mumbai after tying the knot with Shetty and spread himself thin across multiple businesses from sports to real estate to gold. His first big splash was his investment in the Indian Premier League’s (IPL) Rajasthan Royals team in February 2009, six months before he married Shetty.

The Kundra-Shetty couple bought an 11.7 per cent stake in the cricket team for $16.3 million. Shetty became the face of the team, beaming in all its promotional materials, and cheering and waving at live matches alongside Kundra.

A former functionary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), who was involved in the IPL’s administration, told ThePrint that Kundra would be routinely seen at IPL after-parties, flanked by glamorous women and persons whose accreditation cards said they had pitch access.

The couple’s IPL innings, however, were cut short in 2013 when the Delhi Police investigated Kundra for betting, which is illegal in India, as part of a larger spot-fixing scandal, and said the businessman had confessed to placing bets on his own team. The same year the BCCI suspended Kundra, pending inquiry, from all activities related to the IPL.

In 2014, the three-member Mudgal Committee, investigating allegations of betting and spot-fixing in the IPL, in its report, a copy of which was accessed by ThePrint, stated Kundra was in touch with bookies about betting.

The report said, one of Kundra’s friends was a known punter and the latter had given a statement of having placed bets on Kundra’s behalf.

“Materials on record indicate that individual 11 (Kundra) was placing bets or was at the minimum standing guarantee for his punter friend. These infractions also violate BCCI/IPL anti-corruption code,” the report stated. However, it added that allegations of betting or spot-fixing against Kundra need to be further investigated.

“The committee also found that the investigation against this individual (Kundra) was abruptly and without reason stopped by the Rajasthan Police upon receiving the case papers from Delhi Police,” the Mudgal report added. In 2015, the Lodha Committee banned Kundra from cricket for life.

The above-mentioned former BCCI official said, “This was when the company that owned Rajasthan Royals asked the Kundras to sell their stake. I clearly remember Kundra saying that he was a British citizen and could indulge in betting. But, one cannot bet if you are part of the administration of the IPL as a team owner. It is a conflict of interest.”

In 2018, speaking to reporters, Kundra claimed he had filed a Right to Information request with the Delhi Police to find out whether there was any evidence against him on the allegations of betting, and found that there was none.


Also read: Has Pornhub become safer after NYT report? Its new steps aren’t enough


The gold scandal

In 2014 and 2015, Shetty and Kundra, respectively, picked up shares and became directors of Satyug Gold Private Limited and announced a peculiar gold scheme giving a discount of up to 37 per cent on gold coins and bars by making an advance payment and waiting for for the delivery of gold for two to five years. The scheme, however, dragged the company into multiple controversies.

“They had signed a memorandum of understanding with us to use our branding for the scheme,” a functionary of the Indian Bullion and Jewellers Association, who did not wish to be named, claimed.

“Within one year of launching the scheme, we had written to them asking how they are going to meet their commitments. We also wrote to SEBI about it. Satyug Gold responded by saying they have stock to meet people’s orders on maturity.”

Raj Kundra arrives at Enforcement Directorate (ED) office in 2019, to join investigations in a case related to gangster Iqbal Mirchi | ANI File Photo
Raj Kundra arrives at Enforcement Directorate (ED) office in 2019, to join investigations in a case related to gangster Iqbal Mirchi | ANI File Photo

An investor in the scheme, who owns his own bullion business in Mumbai, said requesting anonymity that he had booked 5 kg in the scheme, but did not get anything in return.

“I got some of my investment money back. I complained at the Bandra-Kurla Complex police station in 2020 and I found out there are more such victims of the scheme. Some have not got a single penny back.”

Deputy Commissioner of Police Manjunath Singe said a complaint against Satyug Gold had been received, and “we are looking into it”.

Another investor from the scheme, Sachin Joshi, had filed a complaint at the Khar police station in January 2020, and a petition in the Bombay High Court in April 2020 (a copy of both is with ThePrint) against Satyug Gold for failing to deliver the 1 kg gold he had booked, which was due in 2019, by paying Rs 18.57 lakh in 2014.

According to Joshi’s petition, Kundra and Shetty had personally approached him in March 2014 to sell him the scheme. But, trying to redeem his gold allegedly turned out to be a wild goose chase. The company’s address at The Capital Building in posh Bandra-Kurla Complex was shut. A webpage led him to another address in Andheri West which, it turned out, did not belong to Satyug Gold. A second Internet search threw up an Andheri East address, which again did not belong to the company. Joshi culled out two more addresses from the company’s annual returns in Malad and Andheri, which too did not belong to Satyug Gold.

In September, the Bombay High Court asked Satyug Gold to deposit the 1 kg gold Joshi had booked.

A press statement issued by Shetty and Kundra’s legal team in September 2020 said, “The Company has a ratio of 90% processed customers who are happy and satisfied with the services of SGPL. Bombay High Court on 11th September, 2020 had granted a stay on the order 7th September, 2020 by which Mr. Joshi was allowed to take the gold deposited with the court.”

Meanwhile, Shetty resigned as a director from the company in May 2016, while Kundra resigned in November 2017. According to its last filed financial results with the RoC, the company posted a loss of Rs 69.6 lakh in 2015-16.

Satyug Gold is still shown as active with Mohammad Saifee and Ganpati Shankar Chaudhary as directors. Saifee is also on the boards of Essential Bulk Commodities and Best Deal TV Private Limited, both companies in which Kundra was previously a director. Chaudhary is a business partner of Kundra in JL Stream.


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


Other controversies

In October 2019, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had summoned Kundra for alleged business deals with ‘D Company’ gangster Iqbal Mirchi. Kundra was in partnership with Ranjeet Bindra, who the ED said was working for Mirchi, negotiating property deals for him and laundering large sums to him through layers.

According to the ED’s investigation, RKW Developers, in which Ranjeet Bindra was a director, had transactions with Essential Hospitality Limited, in which Shetty was a director. Kundra was also in partnership with Bindra in Bastion Hospitality. The ED was also probing another director of RKW Developers, Placid Jacob Naronha, who had served as a director in Bawa Realtors, in which Kundra was a director between March 2011 and July 2013.

Kundra said in a statement as reported by India Today, “In 2011, I sold a plot that I owned near the airport including the company to RKW developers. Everything is documented & verified by my CA. This is the be-all and end-all of the deal. Any loans given to the company in question was after we sold the company to the new owner. We sold a zero debt company! We have never taken a single loan it was taken by the new owners of the company!”

Kundra and his parents’ name had also cropped up in The Indian Express’ Paradise Papers investigation into offshore and banking assets. According to the investigation, in 2009, Kundra and his parents funneled 2 million euros through layered offshore companies for direct and indirect investments in two companies each in India and the UK.

However, Kundra has never let controversies get the better of him. For Kundra, as his Instagram page shows, one day he is James Bond, on another he is Lionel Messi and on yet another he is Jack from Titanic, posting inspirational messages as “#Rajmantra”. One such message on 8 July stated, “I used to care what other people thought of me until I tried to pay for my bills with their opinions.”

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)


Also read: Can we hold TikTok responsible for the spread of pornography in India?


 

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