May 11, 2010

The Rise, The Fall

The story of Lalit Modi in today's Mumbai Mirror is here - as good as any james hadley chase novel.
From the clubby world of south Delhi to a Bel Air home...From black sheep to babalog...
The Lalit Modi story. Uncut.

By Kunal Pradhan
Lalit Modi's old-time acquaintances recall a celebratory evening in the winter of 1991, his brother Samir's wedding to Shivani Gupta, the daughter of Delton Cables family, at the Taj Mahal Hotel on Delhi's Man Singh Road.
The hotel was decked up, the city's swish set had turned up in all its finery, and the singing and dancing was in full flow. The baraat, however, wouldn't move; delaying it was KK Modi's elder son Lalit, to the point that his mother Bina had to chide him to speed things up. Lalit Modi responded with an explosion of anger, screaming at Bina in front of the guests.
"We were all stunned by the way he spoke to his mother. He was always rude and arrogant -- quite different from the others in the Modi family," a guest who had attended the wedding said on condition of anonymity.
The short temper has remained one of his defining traits over the years and may explain why the man who was labelled India's most charismatic sports entrepreneur till last month now finds himself the midst of a multi-agency probe, his brand equity tarnished, and that old moniker of black sheep returning to haunt him.
With talk of malfeasance and profiteering becoming common currency, this newspaper can reveal that the intelligence agencies are putting together a dossier on IPL commissioner Lalit Modi, 46.
In Delhi, in the rarefied circles at Prithviraj Road and Ashok Road, and Jorbagh and Maharani Bagh, the whisper is about KK Modi's son's uber extravagant lifestyle comprising a private Lear jet that plies like a taxi, holidays on the Italian Riviera, new year breaks in Mexico at Jimmy Goldsmith's home, the rented mansion in Bel Air and finally, Modi's proximity to Christina and Steve Schwarzman, co-founder of the alternative asset management company Blackstone that specialises in private equity, real estate and investment strategies.
What sets Modi apart from your regular rich is that it can easily be preceded by the descriptor favourite of the tabloids: filthy. Modi's extravagance stands out for crossing the line between opulent and blatant.

Over a series of conversations with Lalit Modi's old acquaintances, some family members and colleagues, we piece together a story that takes us back to a time when only a handful were genuinely rich, when bonds were forged on the wide roads of Central Delhi and strengthened every summer on the streets of Central London, when everyone knew everything about everybody else in the top tier of Indian high-society.
Wedding bells
While the Modi family under the leadership of patriarch KK Modi was flourishing in India as their company Godfrey Phillips went on to be become India's number two tobacco company, in Nigeria, Pessu Aswani had set up a booming business, dividing his time between Lagos and London. His good friend Murli Chellaram was also part of the prospering Indian diaspora in Africa. Years later, Aswani's daughter Kavita would marry Chellaram's son Suresh.
But it was Aswani's other girl, Minal, who led a more interesting life. She married a high-flying professional Jack Sagrani, who lived in Nigeria, London and finally worked in Saudi Arabia for Inlaks, owned by Indoo and Lakshmi Shivdasani. While Minal was pregnant, Sagrani was caught in a scam and jailed in Saudi Arabia for several months. He was unable to visit his wife even when she delivered their daughter Karima in London.
After Sagrani and Minal parted ways, she stayed in the Gulf for a few years before finally moving to Delhi, where she was a frequent resident at her friend Bina Modi's house at A-1, Maharani Bagh. This was few years after Minal and Bina's son Lalit had returned from the United States after being convicted in a drugs and assault charge. Lalit's return had been facilitated by some of his father's friends -- leading businessmen Jens Howalt and VL Gregory, owner of Alexander's Department Store Robin Farkas, and billionaire Leonard Lauder, until recently the head of cosmetics giant Estee Lauder.
Minal and Lalit's courtship began at the Maharani Bagh home... creating a storm

Minal and Lalit's courtship began at the Maharani Bagh home, and the two sprang a surprise a few months later by expressing the desire to marry each other. Their declaration of love led to one of the biggest commotions the Modis have ever witnessed. While Bina Modi felt betrayed by her friend for allegedly luring her son, who was ten years her junior, into a profitable marriage, KK Modi told Lalit that he would not give his consent for the marriage.
After days of negotiations, angry outbursts and threats, sources say that Lalit finally had his way. Permission was granted for the wedding (which took place on October 17, 1991), a maintenance allowance was promised by the family, and Lalit was included in the Godfrey Phillips as a director. "Lalit said he would create a scandal if the marriage was not agreed to. The Modis were left with no choice," said a family friend.
Mumbai move
Since Lalit and Minal's wedding had caused such a stir in the social circle in Delhi, the new bride soon discovered that she didn't have much company because not too many of her childhood friends were very forthcoming.
The couple decided to move to Mumbai, where they first lived in KK Modi's flat at Sterling Apartments on Pedder Road. However, by the time Lalit's family grew -- son Ruchir and daughter Aliya joined step-daughter Karima Sagrani -- they had first rented, and then bought Minal's father's house in Juhu, which was rented out for film shootings until they moved in.
This house, where the Modis lived for more than ten years, caught fire in December last year and is currently under repairs. There have been some allegations of arson for claim of insurance money, but so far they remain unsubstantiated.
Modi launched Modi Entertainment from a plush sea-facing office at Bandra Bandstand. He was instrumental in getting ESPN to India. He started a lottery and briefly tied-up with Disney. However, though they were pioneering ventures, none of them really matched Modi's ambition, and Modi usually parted with his partners having burnt bridges.
Lalit knew Raje though her school friend Bina Kilachand, who had moved to Jaipur with her
The turn around
While he was living in Mumbai, sources said he continued to receive a maintenance allowance from his father's company as his own businesses failed consistently. Things started to turn around, however, once Lalit's friend Vasundhara Raje took over as Chief Minister of Rajasthan in 2003.

Lalit knew Raje through her school friend Bina Kilachand, who had moved to Jaipur with her. Lalit Modi followed soon after, hoping his proximity to the CM would help him set up a profitable business. Soon after he shifted to Jaipur, Raje and Kilachand allegedly had a big falling out but Lalit stayed back as one of Vasundhara's closest allies, and his reputation as an alleged wheeler-dealer started to grow.
While in Jaipur, he not only took over the cricket establishment using a legislation which brought the state cricket association under the purview of government, but also created a storm for his alleged involvement in the sale of some heritage havelis. This is now under probe.

Modi's fortune further escalated after he entered the Board of Control for Cricket in India representing Rajasthan-- first as a dealer who helped the Pawar group defeat Jagmohan Dalmiya -- and then as a money-making whiz kid who finally came good business-wise. The BCCI's profits soared over a billion USD in 2006 with Modi in its midst. Two years later his brainchild, the IPL, took cricket's economics to a different level.
Family ties
Lalit Modi's family and friends, most of whom have already featured in this article, are an integral part of the IPL. Minal's sister Kavita is married to Suresh Chellaram who owns a majority share in the Rajasthan Royals franchise which incidentally had the lowest bid amount at the auction in 2008.

Lalit's step-daughter Karima is married to Gaurav, son of Monica and Vivek Burman of the Dabur group. The marriage caused a stir in the Burman family similar to the one in the Modi family when Lalit and Minal tied the knot.

The Burmans have since distanced themselves from Gaurav, who first lived in London but now stays in a disputed four-bedroom flat on Sir Pochkhanawala Road, Worli, rented for Rs 600 a month by Godfrey Philips from a Parsi trust.

Gaurav is a stakeholder in Global Cricket Venture, a firm that has the digital, mobile and internet rights of the IPL. His brother Mohit Burman is a co-owner in Kings XI Punjab, which he owns as part of the consortium consisting of his childhood friends Karan Paul and Ness Wadia, and Wadia's ex-girlfriend Preity Zinta. The franchise, however, is up for sale now.

BCCI officials say that Modi did not disclose any of these relationships with franchise stakeholders at the time of the bidding for the first eight IPL teams.

One of the owners of Kolkata Knight Riders is also an old friend of Lalit Modi's. Jay Mehta, son of Mahinder Mehta, who owned Saurashtra Cements, and Lalit are childhood buddies.

Luxe lifestyle

Those in the know reveal several details about how Modi's lifestyle has changed over the last three years. To start with, he has been going on lavish holidays to the most exotic destinations in the world. In the Italian Riviera, he allegedly rented a boat in which he invited several friends from India, including some senior politicians.

The Modis have also been spending the Christmas vacations in Phuket's Aman Resort for the last few seasons with friends and family. In 2008-09, they allegedly went to Mexico, where they rented Jimmy Goldsmith's home. Goldsmith was the billionaire father of Imran Khan's ex-wife Jemima.

Around that time, Minal Modi was diagnosed with breast cancer and Lalit rented a house in Bel Air, one of Los Angeles's poshest suburbs, for stay during her treatment. Karima and Gaurav Burman also stayed there until Minal bounced back from the illness.

Aside from this spending, it is his private jet, which he uses for most of his travel needs these days -- including the IPL match in Dharamshala and the ICC meeting in Dubai recently -- that has come under special scrutiny. Not only because it raises aspersions of unexplained assets but because the aircraft has become a bit of a joke in his social circle.

"Is it a plane or a taxi?" asked one source. "Private jets are usually used judiciously, even by the biggest industrialists. They are for work, not pleasure, and they're supposed to help by getting you to far-off places quickly. No one, except Lalit Modi these days, uses it as a replacement for all other means of transport," the source added.

The word is that Lalit Modi's extravagance is a retaliation for all the years when he was looked down upon by other families in their social circle. "It was in his nature to be loud, but he never got a chance," a source said. "The only problem is that overdoing things has got him in trouble now."

Modi's extravagance is a retaliation for all the years he was looked down upon!!


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