Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Call to book Breach Candy Club 'Scamsters'

• Crores of rupees misappropriated, say many members
• Dethroned chairman Dipesh Mehta ran Club as his 'fiefdom'
• Mehta’s bid to paint Europeans Vs Indians racist angle demolished
• Members up in arms against his series of misdeeds, corruption

MUMBAI: A strong plea has been made to the Mumbai Police Commissioner to take criminal action against two heavy weights who perpetuated a scam running into crores of rupees and a series of misdeeds at Breach Candy Swimming Bath Trust, better known as Breach Candy Club in South Mumbai.

An earlier complaint against dethroned purported chairman Dipesh Mehta and his henchman Lalit Agrawal has been pending with the Joint Police Commissioner (crime) and now members want the investigation to be looked into again and action to be taken against the duo and all those responsible for the unprecedented scam in any registered charitable trust, says leading lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani, who is a member of the Club and leading the fight for justice.
An enchanting view of Breach Candy Club
"It appears that in a complaint of forgery, criminal breach of trust and destruction of records, filed by some members against Dipesh Mehta and Lalit Agrawal and others on the managing committee at the time, a Chargesheet has been only Lalit Agrawal, which is much to the members ire," he said.

The genesis of the scam dates back to four years ago when Dipesh Mehta has been brought into the Club as a Legal Advisor to liaison with the BMC. Mehta subsequently manipulated and morphed his way to come on to the Managing Committee and later become Chairman of the Club, usurping all powers and run the affairs in a bizarre manner, members say. This despite the fact that the Constitution of the Club never doesn’t permit it. Even worse was that, if anyone raised their voice, they would be threatened to lose their membership.

The membership fee was then raised from Rs 7 lakhs to Rs one crore and Mehta’s committee enrolled members at their whims and fancy, by a manipulative web of using old forms of pending applicants, to accommodate new applicants willing to jump the queue in lieu of underhand monies. Whats even worse is, during their reign – Dipesh Mehta was Chairman and Lalit Agrawal was Member of Ballotting Committee, when the Dipesh is found to be not even a member of the Club and Lalit Agrawal’s membership form is prima facie found to be forged. In another shocking departure from usual procedures (don’t hold your breath because this is only one of many) there appear to be no balloting committee meeting minutes, when all these new members seem to have been taken in. The fact that there was a 50% jump in the membership amply proves this.

Mahesh said some of the series of misdeeds perpetuated by Mehta and Co include: causing a loss of Rs 22 crore in just three years, manifold rise in expenses, bid to carve out an acre of the Club plot in an apparent bid to hand it over to a developer, collection of crores of rupees as membership fee and appointment of key senior employees who would carry out his orders. Additionally, it seems Mehta’s Legal Firm (Dipesh Mehta & Associates) were also paid legal fees by the Club and some of his secretaries were made members whilst other juniors were on the Club payroll month on month. Again, why did this happen? It seems asking these questions is just taboo!

Mehta tried to take shelter under his claim that he was being opposed by a section because he was not of European origin. But then again, in an email of 27 January 2009, when some persons ask Dipesh Mehta (who has become Chairman by then) if Indian Nationals can be accommodated on the Managing Committee, he flatly refuses saying it would need an amendment to the Constitution of the Club. This is the same person who is now screaming ‘racism’ as his only card.

Members who opposed Mehta and his misdeeds sought to dispel his theory and pointed that it was a myth propagated him. “In fact, both European and Indian members are unitedly fighting the battle against the scam,” said one businessman who has  been the member since 1972.

Mehta and his Committee had not filed audited reports with the Charity Commissioner for three years and the membership records are not traceable.

Mehta took away the sensitive original documents of the Trust from the custodian HSBC Bank on the pretext that the Bank could not preserve them and with the criminal intension of getting transferred the title of the Trust property. He subsequently kept them with IL&FS after some members smelt the rat and raised a hue and cry, it is alleged.

Mehta also allegedly threatened the Club staff with dire consequences if they opposed or spoke against him and several criminal complaints have been filed against him with the police.

When all of this was noticed, the members called for an Extraordinary General Meeting on 21 October 2013 and – by following the procedure in the Constitution – voted Mehta and his Committee out and voted a New Managing Committee in. Yet, these persons did not relinquish charge and so the New Managing Committee had to file a case in the Mumbai High Court. After a long drawn legal battle (in which again shockingly Dipesh and gang bled the Club’s coffers to fund the litigation of over 5 Crores whilst members pooled in their resources) the Mumbai High Court passed an Order on 29 October 2015 vindicating the stand of the New Managing Committee and holding that Dipesh and gang were validly removed, Mahesh said.

Not to miss one important detail in this myriad twists and turns of the scam, during the time that the case was being heard in the Mumbai High Court, in November 2014, one of Dipesh’s associates on the Managing Committee Mr. Vikram Malik filed an affidavit placing on record an entirely new Constitution of the Club, a Constitution in which he alleged that – all the provisions that Dipesh and gang were in violation off – had actually been deleted in the Original records and did not exist, but that no one had ever realized these deletions from 1967 till 2014 – but eureka Dipesh and gang had realized it and so therefore, by a stroke of good there was no illegality that Dipesh and gang had committed. Through their own diligence and common sense, the New Committee was able to explain and show to that the deletion marks on the Original Records was the handiwork of an interested person and thus the original records were intentionally tampered.

Of course, in its Order, Justice Gupte of the Mumbai High Court had come down heavily on the fact that the original records seemed to have been prima facie tampered with and, whilst not expressing any final opinion on who tampered with it, held that the law presupposes that a presumption ought to be against the person who would benefits from such illegal act of tampering.

Moreover, the fact that Dipesh and Lalit could not even prove their primary membership of the Club was found to be a telling factor.

Inevitably, Dipesh and gang appealed the Order and the matter is pending in the Appeal.

During the pendency of the Appeal and as a stop gap arrangement for a few months while the Appeal is heard,

A Division Bench headed by Chief Justice Manjula Chellur appointed a three member administrative - retired Supreme Court judge B N Srikrishna, former Bombay High Court Judge R Y Ganoo and a senior partner from Ernst & Young – to look after the day-to-day affairs of the Club.

The Club was formed in 1878 and reserved only for Europeans till much after the Independence. In 1967 the Bombay City Civil Court allowed a new constitution where Indians and other nationals were allowed to be Members, but management was to be retained by Europeans as per the terms of the Principal Indenture for which the Trust was founded.