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Bankrupt, with a £700000 house

Washington, Aug. 14: If the full force of law is thrust on alleged arms dealer Hemant Lakhani, he will be 93- or 94-years-old when he gets out of an American jail. He faces 25 years in prison.

Meanwhile, he could be financially ruined: the maximum fine that he could face under US law for the crimes he has been charged with in a New Jersey court is as much as $1.25 million.

There are doubts, though, if the Americans can recover any fines from him.

According to information in the media here based on court documents and titbits from investigators, the 68-year-old Briton of Indian birth was declared bankrupt in 1999 when his UK company, Multitrade (London) Ltd., located in Mill Hill, north London, went under. It imported basmati rice and saris from the subcontinent.

Lakhani’s wife, Kusum, 66, had a business of her own, called Reliance Clothing, with no connections to the Indian conglomerate of the same name. Her business was located in the posh shopping area of Oxford Street in central London. It is no longer a functioning enterprise.

Kusum accompanied her husband on his ill-fated trip to the US last weekend, but has not been arrested or charged with any crime.

She was present in court yesterday when Lakhani was produced before the judge.

The couple moved from India in 1974, acquired British citizenship and have been living in London ever since.

They have one son, Sanjay, a US business school graduate, who is said to be in New Jersey in the garment trade.

Bankrupt, Lakhani may have been, but it did not deter him from moving three years ago from a £250,000 residence to one costing £700,000 in the wealthy area of Hendon in north London.

Court documents said Lakhani alternatively used another first name, Hemad.

He is also said to have posed as Hekmat, a Muslim in name, presumably because it would have boosted his credibility with people he thought were Islamic terrorists.

Lakhani apparently went into arms trade after the collapse of his traditional business. Which is why British security services have little on his past and no criminal record.

The arrest of Lakhani and the publicity which the case has received spurred panic here yesterday.

Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, wrote to president George W. Bush, asking him to allocate half of the Missile Defense Agency’s $9.1-billion budget in the next two years to pay for anti-missile technology equipment to be fitted to 6,800 American commercial aircraft.

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