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$4m damages for India murder
- Restaurateur in US hires childhood friend to kill fiancee

Washington, May 15: A 30-minute civil trial against an Indian in a New Jersey court has awarded $4 million to an American woman whose daughter was murdered two years ago during a trip to Mumbai with her fiancee.

Pragnesh Desai, who was sued by Madeleine Swiderski, mother of the aspiring model, is co-owner of Manhattan’s Bukhara Grill, a popular restaurant among celebrity visitors from India because of its nominal association with Bukhara franchise restaurants in five-star hotels in India and Southeast Asia.

The case took only 30 minutes because, according to Desai’s attorney, Miles Feinstein, his client decided not to present any defence, fearing evidence in the civil case could be used in a federal criminal case in the US.

In the criminal case, Desai is accused of hiring a childhood friend to kill his fiancee, Leona Swiderski, and collect $1 million in life insurance policies he took out in her name shortly before their trip to Mumbai.

The two were weeks away from their marriage when the murder took place.

According to a criminal indictment in the US, three men picked up Desai and his fiancee from the airport when they arrived in Mumbai.

Desai allegedly paid one of them, Vipul Patel, some $66,666 to kill the woman.

As the couple sat in the rear seat of their car, one of the men pressed a cloth doused with chloroform against Swiderski’s face, strangled her and dumped her body on a highway, according to the federal indictment.

Desai was arrested in India and charged with hiring a contract killer, but last year a court acquitted him of the charge of murder. The prosecution is appealing the acquittal.

Farooq Fruitwala, another conspirator in the case, was arrested last year and is awaiting trial in Mumbai.

Desai initially agreed to voluntarily return to America to face wire-fraud charges filed against him. When prosecutors presented the case to a grand jury last year, he was indicted on charges of murder for hire, international domestic violence and kidnapping. At that point, Desai withdrew the offer to return and is now facing extradition to the US.

Desai, who emigrated to the US two decades ago, has stake in more than one lucrative eating establishment in Manhattan and in a 7-Eleven supermarket.

Rosemarie Arnold, lawyer for the slain woman’s mother, said: “We will now vigorously attempt to gain access to his assets to satisfy this judgment.” She has already obtained a court order to freeze Desai’s assets in the US.

The judge arrived at the compensation figure of $4 million by calculating $1 million for pain and suffering and $3 million for economic losses, including an estimate of income which the aspiring model would have made throughout her life.

“There is no money in world that would bring my daughter back to me,” the mother tearfully told local reporters after the judge’s ruling.

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