speak-asia-online-logoEver since the arrest of AISPA President Melvin Crasto over an unexplained $3000 payment from Speak Asia, a big question mark has hovered over his actual involvement in Speak Asia.

At a time when panelists are engaged in Supreme Court action to recover what they can after Harendar Kaur siphoned off over $100 million USD in panelist’s money to Singapore, the fact that Crasto, a mere panelist as AISPA President Ashok Bahirwani continues to profess, was receiving payments from Speak Asia raised more than a few eyebrows.

Despite proclaiming Crasto’s supposed innocence and insistence by Bahirwani that he is not ‘a promoter of SAOL’, the EOW presented enough evidence in court to convince a judge to deny Crasto bail and remand him into their custody.

After a week of further interrogation by the EOW, Crasto’s supplied information then led to the arrest of Speak Asia’s acting Chief Operating Officer (COO), Ashish Dandekar.

Before we get into Ashish Dandekar’s arrest, it’s worth noting that as per Ashok Bahirwani’s 3rd December update, ‘Melwyn asked to meet our counsel Adv. Ahmad Abdi‘.

Given that Crasto had requested no legal representation beforehand, it’s pretty obvious that in light of what the EOW had against Crasto, ‘I’m just a simple panelist and I have no idea why Speak Asia paid me $3000′ was clearly not cutting it.

So what did the EOW have on Crasto?

Well, according to one source:

Police say Crasto has received 23 lakh ($43,217 USD) in his Bank account directly from Speak Asia

Police say Crasto is like a promoter of Speak Asia as he is one of the first panelists and certainly knew that there were no customers for the surveys.

This revelation certainly accounts for the Mumbai High Court continuing to deny Crasto bail. Could it be that on December 3rd Crasto sought legal advice as to the ramifications of having received over $40,000 USD from Speak Asia despite claiming to be a simple panelist?

With business operations effectively ceased since May 2011, how many of Speak Asia’s other regular panelists have received $40,000 in kickbacks from the company over the last few months?

Certainly, Bahirwani’s charge that Crasto’s arrest was an ‘atrocity’ and a mere ploy because ‘the EOW does not want the panelists to be suitably represented before the Hon. Mr. Justice R.C. Lahoti’ appears to be questionably motivated.

By all means profess Crasto’s innocence but in addition to that, Bahirwani and AISPA much publicized writ petition (writ 3611) has been rejected now twice in court.

In the first scheduled hearing on the 9th December, before a judge dismissed the petition because it was invalid, AISPA’s legal counsel pleaded with the judge to ‘be permitted to amend the petition‘.

A judge granted this within a deadline of three days and once again the writ petition was heard on December 14th.

In it’s amended form AISPA name the EOW and an unamed party the public prosecutor argued that

1. the petition should be dismissed because ‘the complainant (Navniit Kkhosla) has not been named as party-respondent‘.

For some reason, despite seeking to quash the FIR he first lodged with police, Kkhosla’s name was absent on AISPA’s petition.

AISPA appear to be under the impression that they can just quash a member of the public’s FIR without the complainant being heard in court… thankfully, the judge is having none of it.

2. ‘the petitioner No.1 (AISPA) is not a registered association and has not been named as accused in the FIR or even thereafter‘.

In the matter of AISPA not being a registered association, this I’m assuming the EOW are using to cast doubt on the representation claims by AISPA that they legally represent all of Speak Asia’s panelists.

This is interesting as if it means something, as the EOW seem to think it does, AISPA representing panelists at the Lahoti Committee meeting should therefore be legally be invalid.

That’s a side issue as far as I’m concerned though, what’s more interesting is that for some reason AISPA are not the only listed petitioner in writ 3611.

The petitioners in writ 3611 are listed as ‘All India Speak Asia Panelist Association & Ors.

‘& Ors.’ of course referring to other party(s). But who, other than AISPA would protest against the arrest and interrogation of Melvin Crasto in the capacity of being the President of AISPA?

One clue is revealed in the prosecutors very specific wording,

(AISPA) has not been named as accused in the FIR.

The public prosecutor is effectively arguing that because AISPA are not directly involved in the EOW’s criminal investigation into Speak Asia (nor subsequent of Melvin Crasto), they have no legal standing to interfere in it.

To date AISPA have only ever publicly mentioned Mr.Ahmad Abdi as acting on their behalf. Writ 3611 however states the petitioners representatives as ‘Mr. Dinesh Mathur, Sr.Advocate with Mr.Ahmad Abdi & Mr.Satyaprakash Sharma i/b Abdi & Co. for Petitioners‘.

Satyaprakash appears to be working with Ahmad Abdi for Abdi & Co., but who is this Dinseh Mathur fellow and more importantly, who is he representing and who is paying his appearance fee?

Facing dismissal of their petition again, as the primary petitioner of writ 3611 AISPA once again begged the judge hearing the case to ‘for leave to amend the petition‘.

This was agreed to, but only on the following conditions:

Learned Counsel for the petitioners (AISPA and unnamed party(s)) submit that the said petitioner (AISPA) is competent to pursue the present petition.

We are not in agreement with this submission.

If the petitioner No.1 (AISPA) is an unregistered association, it is not competent to pursue relief, more so, for quashing of C.R. to which it is not a party.

We, therefore, direct the petitioners to delete petitioner No.1 (AISPA).

The removal of AISPA entirely from the writ petition they so-claimed as their own.

Additionally, there is no mention made of a petitioner no 3., and with the court noting that

petitioner No.2 has not been named in FIR. Yet the said petitioner was arrested and taken into custody and is presently in judicial custody,

it’s pretty much confirms that petitioner no. 2 is Melvin Crasto himself.

AISPA appears to have made these changes to ‘their’ writ petition and the matter as set to be heard again on Thursday 22nd December.

As it stands, if I’m understanding everything correctly, Melvin Crasto is to be named primary petitioner #1 on a writ petition, a petition arguing the invalidity of his arrest as a result of a criminal investigation into a company he recently received over $40,000 USD from.

Yeah, so I wonder how that’s going to work out for him?

One final direction from the court mentions

the petitioners to file additional paper-book to be supported by affidavit to place on record complete compilation of Writ3 3611.11

Petition (Civil) No.383/2011 filed before the Apex Court before the next date of hearing.

Petition 383 is the Solomon James writ that is currently being heard in the Suprme Court. But what this has to do with AISPA I’m not sure.

Why do AISPA need to file an affidavit to be included in the Solomon James writ 383 in relation to a writ regarding Melvin Crasto’s arrest?

Perhaps AISPA’s unconfirmed application to implead itself as a representative into the Lahoti Committee hasn’t gone as smoothly as they’d have hoped.

Furthermore, given the Mumbai High Court’s refusal to acknowledge AISPA as a body with any legal right to representation in petitions regarding Speak Asia, does this not mean the same applies to the Lahoti Committee?

Question’s I’d love to hear AISPA President Bahirwani address, but am not holding my breath to hear answered.

Getting back to Ashish Dandekar, who was arrested on information provided to the EOW by Melvin Crasto following his interrogation, another big question mark has fallen over Dandekar’s actual level of involvement in Speak Asia.

Following the arrest of Tarak Bajpai, Dandekar was made acting COO as Bajpai was unable to perform his duties.

To date, Bajpai remains in hiding and has not appeared on behalf of, or in any official capacity for Speak Asia in public since his arrest on the July 29th. That and unless anyone can prove otherwise, Ashish Dandekar has never actually been stripped of his capacity to act as COO of Speak Asia.

But what about before Bajpai was arrested… was Ashish Dandekar’s role in Speak Asia really just that of a Regional Manager?

This extract of the minutes of a Speak Asia board meeting held in Singapore on the 15th July, two weeks before Bajpai was arrested, seems to suggest otherwise:

CERTIFIED TRUE COPY OF EXTRACT OF THE MINUTES OF THE BOARD MEETING OF SPEAKASIA ONLINE LIMITED HELD ON 15 July 2011 AT Ubi Crescent, #07-68, Ubi Techpark, Singapore 408564

“Resolved that Shri. Ashish Dandekar born on 7 march 1976 s/o Mr. Vijay Dandekar, resident of (address removed) is hereby authorized to represent us in initiating and following up all legal actions instructed by us in writing, including filing of Writ Petitions, suits, Criminal petitions etc in India against any or all actions in relation to our distribution business, to engrave Advocate/s/lawyer/s/counsel to represent us before any court (Civil or Criminal), authority, tribunal, RBI, to sign petitions, Plaint, Appeal memorandum, affidavit, applications, give statements, evidence etc on our behalf.”

Resolved further that we hereby authorize Shri. Ashish Dandekr born on 7 march 1976 s/o Mr. Vijay Dandekar, resident of (address removed) on behalf of M/s Speakasiaonline Pre. Ltd (SAOL”) represent and safeguard SAOL in initiating all legal action w.r.t :

1. Criminal Contempt by Star News and

2. Defamation suit against Star News and its employees and related group organizations as necessary;

To file appear and follow up applications related to the defamation suit against Star news and related entities in Hon’ble Bombay High Court on behalf of SAOL.

 

Place: Singapore

Date : 15/7/2011

Sd/- (Signature reads Harender) TRUE COPY

Sd/- DIRECTOR FOR PHOENIX LEGAL

Round Seal ADVOCATES

Now given that this was a full two weeks before Bajpai, the alleged public COO of Speak Asia, was arrested, why on Earth would Speak Asia and their legal team be giving Dandekar, a mere regional manager, the authority to act on behalf of the company?

I mean, surely this matter was worthy of the full attention of the not yet arrested COO Tarak Bajpai wasn’t it?

I think from this a clear picture can be painted as to Tarak Bajpai’s actual involvement in the day-to-day running of Speak Asia and his effective role within the company.

That of course being to smile for the cameras and tell Speak Asia’s panelists everything is going to be ok, whilst Harendar Kaur quietly siphoned off over $100 million USD of panelist’s money off to Singapore.

This perfectly explains Tarak Bajpai’s complete absence from the public eye following his discharge from hospital. Behaviour to date never officially unexplained by Speak Asia, despite it being highly suspicious.

With Dandekar pretty much confirmed to be acting as COO from at least July (and who knows before that) for Speak Asia, it’s no wonder he’s become an important figure in the EOW’s investigation into Speak Asia. It also explains why the courts are refusing to grant him bail.

Much was made of Tarak Bajpai being released on bail after his arrest, but if it turns out he was just a frontman who infact did know nothing much of importance, it’s no wonder the EOW couldn’t hold him.

Dandekar on the other hand seems to be a different matter entirely, with the EOW obviously able to produce damning evidence enough in court to ensure Dandekar is remanded in custody until the EOW are finished with him.

With Crasto still in custody it’s obvious the information he provided to the EOW under interrogation led to the arrest of Dandekar. But unlike Dandekar, as of yet a clear picture of Crasto’s involvement with the company hasn’t surfaced – beyond the fact he’s received over $40,000 USD in unexplained payments from the company.

As of yet the fruits of Dandekar’s interrogation and arrest by the EOW haven’t surfaced but it’s easy to see that there aren’t too many stepping-stones between COO and any remaining India-based operators of Speak Asia.

As the EOW close in this no doubt is the reason Dandekar and Crasto are being denied bail – as at this stage, the stakes are simply too high to risk them disappearing upon release.

Looking forward, Melvin Crasto’s next bail hearing appears to have been set on Friday the 30th December (unconfirmed).

Ashish Dandekar had a bail application heard yesterday with the EOW presenting the evidence above that Dandekar was not merely acting as a regional manager for the company.

The court has reserved judgement until tomorrow, Monday the 19th December.

What’s interesting to note is that it appears the EOW’s investigation appears to  have progressed beyond having to prove that Speak Asia are a ponzi scheme. Now the mere association of being involved in the company at a management level is enough to hold someone in custody whilst the investigations continue.

I’ll update this specific article with any news regarding Crasto and Dandekar’s respective bail applications and in the meantime I’ll leave you with the following thought:

When an investigative agency starts closing in on management of a company they’ve been investigating for months, that usually means only one thing…

 

Update 21st December 2011 – Ashish Dandekar had a bail application hearing yesterday.

Dandekar’s bail application was rejected solely on the basis that proof was presented to the court that clearly showed Dandekar was operating at a management level for Speak Asia.

It appears the criminal investigation has progressed beyond establishing that Speak Asia is a ponzi scheme, to the point now that the mere involvement of individuals in India at a management level within the company is sufficient for a court to deny them bail after arrest.

The court has withheld its order until today, so hopefully that is made public sometime in the next 24 hours. /end update

 

Update 23rd December 2011 – The AISPA writ 3611 is still in ‘pre-admission’ and has been postponed until the 16th January, 2012.

From what I understand AISPA have been removed altogether from this writ and Navniit Kkhosla, as the complainant behind the FIR AISPA and Crasto are questioning the validity of in their petition, has been added.

With AISPA’s removal of the writ it appears a precedent has been set to remove entirely any involvement the association seeks to have in the legal proceedings involving Speak Asia.

The judge noted that AISPA are not a registered association and as such are not able to pursue, defend or contribute to legal matters in court regarding Speak Asia – at least not in any official capacity.

This just leaves Crasto listed as a named petitioner on writ 3611 (hereby referred to as the Crasto writ). Effectively we have someone arrested who was refused bail after the police presented evidence enough in court to show his involvement in Speak Asia, presenting a petition in court attempting to stop police investigating him.

Nothing suss about that. /end update

 

Update 30th December 2011 – Apparently both Crasto and Dandekar are up for bail hearings today in the Mumbai High Court, so we might get to see whether the EOW are done with them or not.

In the meantime the December 22nd order from the AISPA writ 3611 (hereby referred to as the Crasto writ 3611) is up.

AISPA has been completely removed from the writ as ordered by the court and ‘Melwyn Crasto’ has been named primary petitioner along with ANR. (legalese for ‘another’).

Anju Argarwal has claimed this ‘another’ is none other than AISPA Secretary, Ashok Bahirwani.

AISPA was previously ordered removed from the Crasto writ 3611 on the reasoning that they were ‘not named as accused in the FIR or even thereafter‘.

With Bahirwani also not being named accused in the Kkhosla FIR, it stands to reason that at the next hearing, the EOW will simply move for Bahirwani to be removed from the writ on the same grounds.

With the EOW currently wanting Bahirwani for questioning, his decision to include himself on the petition appears to be a weak attempt to stop the EOW from questioning him. Why Bahirwani is afraid of being interrogated by the EOW remains unclear.

The Crasto 3611 writ was scheduled to be heard on the 22nd December but ‘due to paucity (a lack) of time‘, was not heard.

As it stands the Crasto writ 3611 names Melvin/Melwyn Crasto as primary petitioner, arguing that the FIR filed by KKhosla is invalid, therefore any subsequent criminal investigation (including the arrest of Crasto for ‘unexplained’ payments by Speak Asia) is therefore also invalid.

Quite the absurd scenario to argue that because they think the FIR is invalid, that an entire police investigation into criminal activity is invalid (given that the FIR was about non-payment to panelists).

The case has been next slated for hearing on the 16th January, 2012. /end update

 

Update 13th January 2012 – Whilst we wait for the 16th for the Mumbai High Court case, it does appear that Crasto and Dandekar were granted bail on the 5th January 2012.

I can’t directly link to both bail applications within the District Court website, but you can enter in ‘Mumbai’ for District Name, ‘City Civil Court (Criminal)’ for Court Name and punch in either ‘Crasto’ or ‘Dandekar’ as the Petitioner/Respondent to see the applications yourself.

Currently there are no orders posted for the 5th of January hearing so the outcome of the hearing remains unclear.

As far as I know at time of publication both Dandekar and Crasto are in the custody of the EOW, so there appears to be a holdup in the finalisation of the orders and any possible bail conditions imposed by the court.

One final point of interest, whilst Crasto is being represented by a ‘Sandeep R. Karnik’, Dandekar on the other hand is being represented by none other than ‘Phoenix Legal’.

Phoenix Legal of course being the same allegedly expensive lawyers Speak Asia are using.

One can only wonder why Speak Asia have ordered their expensive legal team to represent Dandekar in court… what does he know they don’t want getting out? /end update

 

Update Wednesday 18th January 2012 – The Crasto writ had a hearing yesterday on the 16th January 2012 and has been listed again for hearing on the 25th January.

In the meantime Melwin Crasto has been released from jail on bail but as it stands the bail conditions and exactly what went on in Monday’s hearing are unknown.

As far as we know, Ashish Dandekar remains in jail.

Sometime in the last 24 hours the orders of the 6th January hearing in this matter were published by the court and amongst other things concerns the matter of arrest of Ashok Bahirwani.

We learn that Ashok Bahirwani had the matter produced early ‘on the basis of the apprehension that the Investigating Officer may take precipitative action against Petitioner No.2 Ashok Bahirwani‘.

Precipatative action of course being arrest in connection to the criminal investigation currently underway by the EOW.

When asked if this was their intention,

The Public Prosecutor on instructions of the Investigating Officer has stated that as of now the Investigating Officer is not contemplating to arrest the Petitioner No.2 – Ashok Bahirwani, but the said petitioner has been called to the police station for the purpose of interrogation

Rather than be interrogated, Bahirwani instead chose to go into hiding and evade the authorities.

Not withstanding, the Public prosecutor did however state that if ‘and when any incriminating material comes on record (the EOW) may proceed to arrest the Petitioner No.2.’

If this were to happen, the court directed the EOW to ‘give 72 hours advance notice to‘ Bahirwani.

Whilst it is interesting to note Bahirwani’s fear of being interrogated by the authorities in connection with the matter, and the implication that he is by far much more involved in the criminal matters the EOW are investigating then he lets on (‘I’m just a simple panelist who never made any money’), more interesting is the difference of opinion on the Solomon James writ 383 between the parties involved.

Ashok Bahirwani asserts that ‘the entire dispute between the private parties has been referred to the Mediator by the Apex Court.’

Whereas ‘Respondent No.3 appearing in person contends that the matter referred to in the criminal complaint is not the subject matter of the mediation.

Interesting choice of words there from Bahirwani… personally I wouldn’t call a criminal investigation a dispute and it’s quite clear the two matters are seperate.

To date nobody has suggested the James writ and the Supreme Court are making any judgement on the criminal liability of Speak Asia running a ponzi scheme for a year until they were shut down, nor the tracing of hundreds of millions of US dollars laundered by the company – and this appears to be the focus of the EOW’s criminal investigation.

You can read the full order published by the court here, and pending the publication of the order from Monday’s hearing – the matter will be heard again on the 25th January 2012 around which point I’ll update again. /end update

 

Update 18th January 2012 #2 – Order is up for the 16th January Crasto writ 3611 hearing.

Dunno why they bothered listing it for hearing but it was deferred as per the petitioner stating that ‘ that the mediation proceedings are still in progress’.

The next hearing has been set for the 25th January but I imagine it will just be deferred again as it’s before the next Solomon James writ hearing date, which is February 6th.

Of interest is the last point of the order that ‘The learned APP submits that, he would like to file (a) reply affidavit, which can be filed on or before 23rd January, 2012‘.

Not sure what the specifics of the affidavit is in relation to but I imagine the EOW want to perhaps file a reply or statement that they want on the record regarding the petition.

You can read the full January 16th order for the Crasto writ 3611 petition here/end update