A few days ago, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Rajkummar Rao starrer The White Tiger was dropped on Netflix India. The film got a humongous response globally. Not only B-town lauded the makers for the excellent scriptwriting, several international celebs like Cardi B, and many others appreciated the terrific storytelling of PeeCee's film.
Everything was going fine until it was reported that The White Tiger's producer Mukul Deora has landed in trouble. Reportedly, a complaint has been filed against the producer Mukul Deora for allegedly using a Swiss Bank account, for funding Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Rajkummar Rao's film.
The White Tiger producer Mukul Deora under ED probe over suspicious transaction for film
Bollywood producer Mukul Deora is in trouble. A complaint has been filed seeking a probe into his alleged benami entity and benami Swiss bank account, used for funding the Netflix film White Tiger.
As per reports, the formal request for an investigation was sent to Enforcement Directorate (ED) into the dealings of late Congress politician Murli Deora's son, Mukul Deora, his chartered accountant Sharad Seksaria, and also Netflix. The request to probe Mukul Deora's shell companies was made by Sonia Mudbhatkal, Founder and CEO of the New Jersey-based Continuum Media LLC.
The complaint by Mudbhatkal to ED against Mukul Deora
Earlier, Mudbhatkal said in her complaint to ED.
I wanted to lodge a formal request for an investigation into the dealings of Congress politician Murli Deora's son Mukul Deora and his CA (and Director of all Mukul Deora and Milind Deora companies), Sharad Seksaria, and also Netflix who is their accomplice as they are in the know of all these various shell companies, and have done a deal with such companies knowingly in violation of John Hart and my (the original copyright holders and producers of the film, The White Tiger) copyright and producing rights of the picture, and in, potentially, a gross violation of our country's laws.
Mukul is one of the film producers while Milind Deora, a former Congress MP, is his brother.
The complaint further said:
"Mukul Deora's lawyer Sandeep Sethi openly admits that the Irish offshore entity Particle Media (Mukul's Benami entity), which on paper belongs to Raj Lakhani (Mukul Deora's benamidar, who is a Hong Kong resident and British Passport holder as told to us) is, in fact, Mukul Deora's company. I have all the documentary evidence to prove the above beyond doubt, including the BSI bank Swiss bank account cheque used for Hong Kong's transaction. BSI Bank was subsequently shut down for money laundering in 2016," Mudbhatkal said in the complaint.
"I would like you to take an urgent look at this matter as the film The White Tiger is playing worldwide in violation of not only John and my rights but also, potentially, India's laws," she added.
There has been some legal action on the issue, as Mudbhatkal's advocates had sent a legal notice to Netflix in 2019 to stop production of The White Tiger.
The notice mentioned that Particle Media is in the process of shutting down. The advocates suspected that Mukul Deora had transferred the film's motion picture rights to a Singapore entity to become the sole owner of The White Tiger in violation of the rights of Mudbhatkal, in breach of contractual commitments made by Mukul Deora to Mudbhatkal.
Later on Monday, Mukul Deora issued a statement reacting to the charges.
I have a deep respect for and full faith in the judiciary of India. As you are aware, on 21 January 2021, upon a holistic consideration of the facts, the Hon'ble Delhi High Court, among other things, rejected the demand by the Plaintiffs and refused to stay the release of The White Tiger. I understand that the Delhi High Court observed that it was not possible, based on the material on record before it, to come to any prima facie conclusion that, by producing or releasing the film, the Defendants indulged in illegal copyright infringement or transgressed the right of the Plaintiff as was alleged in the matter. The matter is currently subjudice and I look forward to the completion of the legal proceedings in this matter. The truth will continue to prevail, reads Mukul Deora's statement.
Here's what exactly happened
As per reports in Mid-day online, on January 21, hours before Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Rajkummar Rao-starrer The White Tiger was dropped online, producers Sonia Mudbhatkal and John Hart had filed a copyright infringement suit in the Delhi High Court against the film's producer Mukul Deora, his chartered accountant Sharad Seksaria and Netflix.
They claimed that they held the adaptation rights to Aravind Adiga's Man Booker Prize-winning novel. Now, the producer duo has gone to the Enforcement Directorate, alleging that Deora used a cheque from a now-defunct Swiss bank, BSI, for "suspicious transactions for the project".
In their email to the ED, Hart and Mudbhatkal lodged a formal request to investigate the transactions. They also alleged that Netflix was in the know of Deora's "various shell companies." Deora told Mid-day that there was no wrongdoing.
For the unversed, Hart — who has previously produced Revolutionary Road (2008) and Boys Don't Cry (1999) — had bought the adaptation rights of the award-winning book on March 4, 2009, from Adiga. In July 2010, Mudbhatkal joined him to produce its screen adaptation and brought Deora on board as a passive financier in October 2010.
According to Hart and Mudbhatkal suit, she and Deora set up Smiling Tree Media Ventures on 50-50 equity deal terms. However, in the years that followed, they claim that Deora set up a web of companies — from Continuum Media in India to Transatlantic Media and Particle Media in Ireland — to subvert the rights of the original copyright owners.
According to their complaint to the ED, in 2013, Deora used the now-defunct Swiss bank in a transaction wherein he wired $1.199 million from BSI bank in Hong Kong to his New York law firm Pryor Cashman's escrow on behalf of Particle Media.
In their complaint to the ED, they also referred to the Delhi High Court injunction judgment where Deora's lawyer Sandeep Sethi has admitted that Particle Media — which on paper belongs to Hong Kong resident Raj Lakhani — is, in fact, linked to Deora. Mudbhatkal also claimed possession of documentary evidence to prove the same, including the BSI bank account cheque used for Hong Kong's transaction.