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Criminal case in Birla battle
- 'Witness' picks holes in will

Calcutta, Oct. 5: The Birla will battle leapt out of one courtroom and raced to another on a dramatic day that saw a criminal case being filed against Rajendra Singh Lodha and the first public appearance of a witness named in the purported will of Priyamvada Birla.

A slew of charges ' ranging from conspiracy and cheating to forgery of will and destruction of documents ' has been slapped on the city-based chartered accountant, who has staked claim to the assets of the MP Birla group citing the will.

Leading the Birla assault on Lodha before chief judicial magistrate Md Mumtaz Khan in Alipore court, lawyer and former Union minister Ram Jethmalani prayed for a search and seizure warrant against Lodha.

The court issued summons to Lodha and the three other co-accused ' S.M. Prasad, V. Gourishankar and S.K. Daga ' to appear before the court on November 29, besides asking why such a warrant should not be issued against them.

The man behind today's move was Rajendra Prasad Pansari, a confidant of the Birla family, who had worked with various M.P. Birla group charitable institutions and trusts.

With Jethmalani assisting in the submission, Pansari claimed that Lodha misused his fiduciary capacity and conspired to 'hijack properties worth over Rs 2,400 crore' meant for public charitable institutions through the will, which was 'fraud'.

This will ' executed on April 18, 1999 ' of Priyamvada Birla is at the centre of the inheritance controversy. With the Birla family challenging the veracity of the will, the two sides are fighting a battle in Calcutta High Court.

In the Alipore court, another equally gripping saga unfolded as Mahavir Prasad Sharma, a witness in the 1999 will, made a submission.

Besides saying that he was 'persuaded' to put his signature by a 'false representation' ' that Priyamvada Birla was bequeathing the wealth to charity through the document ' Sharma said that she did not sign on the will in front of him.

A Birla petition also reiterated that none of the three witnesses (Madan S. Vaidya and P.. Agarwal besides Sharma) read the will. It added: 'They did not insist Priyamvada Birla's signing such a will in their presence'. They were thus duped into affixing their signatures as attesting witnesses.'

Jethmalani accused Lodha of 'criminal conspiracy' and said he had dissolved five trusts that M.P. Birla and Priyamvada Birla created in 1988 to vest all their wealth for charity. He said that Lodha 'misappropriated' property of public charitable institutions with the intention of converting the property for personal use.

Jethmalani said the trusts were dissolved three days before the 1999 will was executed. He demanded to know why the information on dissolution was kept a secret and not mentioned in the high court.

'All these charges are absurd and baseless. We will fight them out,' said a spokesperson for Fox & Mandal, the solicitor firm representing Lodha.

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