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Jessica case grounds ‘honeymoon’ flight

Calcutta, May 13: Minutes before taking a flight to Bangkok, Shayan Munshi, the prime witness in the Jessica Lal murder case, was arrested from Calcutta airport this morning.

In the city to finish dubbing for his film Bong Connection, Munshi and wife Peeya were going for a “delayed honeymoon” to the Thai capital when immigration officials intercepted him around 7.30 am and handed him over to the airport police station.

He was produced before the additional chief judicial magistrate at Barrackpore in North 24-Parganas, around 40 km from Calcutta, and granted bail in the evening. “I still don’t know why I was arrested,” Munshi said tonight.

Delhi police chief K.K. Paul said over phone: “Shayan Munshi was not wanted in any case in Delhi. After the Jessica Lal murder case was reopened in March, a look-out circular was issued to all witnesses and accused in the case, and Shayan was not supposed to leave the country without permission of the court.

“As a prime witness, Munshi has already appeared a couple of times for interrogation and his presence is needed for further investigation into the murder case.”

Munshi, like Jessica, was a celebrity bartender at the party at Tamarind Court on the night of April 29, 1999, where she was shot dead.

Then a struggling model and actor, he had given the court a blow-by-blow account of what he had seen that night. But later, he turned hostile, denying that prime suspect Manu Sharma had opened fire. Sharma was accused of shooting Jessica after she refused to serve a drink.

Paul, however, said he was “surprised” that the actor was arrested by Bengal police. “Look, there is a difference between an LOC and an arrest warrant. I do not know why he was arrested.”

Another Delhi police official cited the example of Bina Ramani, who approached Delhi High Court and got permission to go to Thailand recently. Ramani, a socialite who owns the Delhi restaurant Tamarind Court, is also a witness.

Munshi was arrested under Section 41 of the CrPC, which allows police to arrest anyone without producing a warrant, and then taken to Barrackpore court.

Around 2.30 pm, Barrackpore sub-divisional police officer Sugata Sen arrived and had a three-hour meeting with additional chief judicial magistrate Gopal Chandra Karmakar. “We got in touch with the Delhi police and clarified the situation,” Sen said.

Munshi was finally produced in court at 6.15 pm. After a hearing lasting an hour, Karmakar released him on a personal bond of Rs 5,000. The magistrate asked Munshi to submit his passport at the airport police station and report to Delhi police at the earliest.

“We were under the impression that Shayan could leave the country as he had already appeared before the police and answered their queries,” said Peeya. “Now we know better.”

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