Mumbai, June 16: Preity Zinta and Ness Wadia are exploring the possibility of a settlement, a top lawyer has said.
Efforts are on to withdraw Preity’s complaint, on the basis of which police filed an FIR against the Bombay Dyeing scion on the charge of outraging the modesty of the actress and co-owner of Kings XI Punjab.
Mumbai police had filed an FIR against Ness after Preity complained that he had “grabbed her by the hand” and abused her in full public view during an IPL match at the Wankhede stadium on May 30.
The Mumbai lawyer close to Preity and Ness told The Telegraph this evening that negotiations were on to put the lid on the ugly spat.
The FIR against Ness has been drawn up under Section 354 of the IPC (assault or use of criminal force with intent to outrage a woman’s modesty).
If held guilty, an accused can be sent to jail for up to five years — something that is being cited as a key factor on the negotiating table.
What can make or unmake the negotiations is the stand of Preity on this particular charge. Hours after the other lawyer mentioned the negotiations, Preity’s lawyer Hitesh Jain told this newspaper that he was “appalled that the entire incident was being given the colour of a sexual assault by the media and the police”.
The points being discussed for the settlement include the sale of Preity’s stake in Kings XI Punjab, according to sources who did not want to be named. “She is keen to sell her IPL stake and shift to the US after this very public row with Ness. She has bought herself property in Los Angeles, where she spends most of her time nowadays. She is in India only during the IPL season,” said a friend of Preity.
Preity and Ness each own 23 per cent stake in the company that owns the team. Mohit Burman of Dabur holds 46 per cent while Karan Paul of the Apeejay Surrendra Group and the Delhi-based Root Investment also own some stake.
On May 25, five days before the alleged Zinta-Wadia episode at Wankhede, Kings XI Punjab had declared itself profitable for the first time.
KPH Dream, the company that owns Kings XI Punjab, declared a profit before tax of Rs 78.01 lakh for 2012-13, according to documents filed with the Registrar of Companies.
An insider said that with KPH Dreams not keen on any outside investors — if there is any stake sale — the shares would have to be picked up internally.
This has also set the stage for the settlement talks, the sources said.
“It is for the courts to decide whether Section 354 is applicable to this case or not. But the very filing of the FIR under this charge puts Ness Wadia in deep trouble. Not only is it a non-bailable charge, it is also non-compoundable, which means it cannot be settled between parties. So the only option is withdrawal of the complaint or refusal by Zinta to re-record her statement as asked by police. Let’s see how this plays out,” said N. Pradhan, a senior Mumbai lawyer.
The Wadias are also focusing on the particular charge. “It was a quarrel between ex-lovers — there might have been some physical fracas, but it was in no way an assault on a woman’s modesty — the court will throw out the case. The other party realises this and is ready for a settlement,” said a Wadia family source.
Preity’s lawyer Jain said: “She never mentioned sexual assault. Why are they calling it a ‘molestation’? The police have not even contacted me — her lawyer — yet. It is strange.”
Preity’s complaint letter, which the police have converted into an FIR, says: “I… request you to look in the matter at the earliest and as per law, register an FIR u/s 354, 506 and 509 of the Indian Penal Code against Mr Ness Wadia for physically and mentally torturing me, criminally intimidating me and insulting me in public by speaking ill against my character”.
Mumbai lawyer Abha Singh pointed out that “IPC section 354 is usually slapped in cases of molestation as that is what the law means by outraging the modesty of a woman. Those who demand action under such provisions in their complaints should know what it means.”
On Monday, Mumbai police wrote to Preity asking her to appear before them and re-record her statement.
“We are unable to reach her on phone — so we have written to her to come and record her statement within a week. It is only then we can go ahead further. As of now, the CCTV footage of the Garware pavilion, where Ness was accused of attacking Preity on May 30, has not revealed anything. We have asked the BCCI to share footage from other cameras,” said a Mumbai police officer.
“Preity had mentioned two Mumbai businessmen who were at the spot as her witnesses. We have interviewed them. We will also interview BCCI officials in this regard. We will call Wadia after collecting all the evidence,” he added.
With some high-profile lawyers in the ring, the row is also being projected as a proxy battle between two top corporate groups. Ness’s father, industrialist Nusli Wadia, is due to depose before a city court on June 30 in a 23-year-old case.