The irony of Harshad Mehta

February 26th, 2009

I met him once in mid-1998. Actually, I tagged along with my bureau chief B Krishnakumar (The Week).

In 1998, the stock market had again started misbehaving. In the first few months, it had shot up, only to crash within days. And some stocks, especially the ones whose promoters were advised by the big bull were doing exceptionally well.

We wanted to explore this line of investigation. On reaching his Maker Chamber office at 5 pm, we were made to wait for almost an hour – he was still being quizzed by CBI sleuths everyday.

My only memory about the office is that it had a rather glassy look about it, and there wasn’t a single sheet of paper, anywhere.

When Mehta came, he looked and sounded quite calm – a remarkable feat for someone, who was being grilled for six-eight hours a day. He told us about his new role as a corporate advisor (without naming the companies, of course) and offered us chai.

He also told us about the 24 criminal cases and over 300 civil cases against him. Later, I was told that he owed over Rs 11,000 crore to the tax authorities at one time.

After chatting with us till almost 7.30-8 pm, he offered to drop us back to our office. We travelled in his car. Was it the famous Lexus? I don’t remember, but it was quite an impressive one.

After he left, Krishna and me wondered about his source of income. (Remember, this was the time when his bank accounts had been frozen) But nothing suggested he was short of cash.

Three years later, Sebi banned Mehta from trading (yes, he had actually been given the trading licence back, even after the 1992 scam). Also, the three companies, whose shares were shored up by Mehta’s cartel, were banned from tapping the market for a few years.

Mehta died on 31 December, 2001.

A few weeks back (and 17 long years), when Mehta’s famous Worli house (Madhuli) attracted a mere Rs 20 crore, I was a bit surprised. His brother Ashwin urged the court to grant an extension as the price was too little for 8 flats.

After a week, there was another offer of slightly over Rs 32 crore – a whopping 60 per cent rise in just seven days. Despite this rise, the value was way below the going rate in the market.

For a man, who had spent most of his life shoring up share prices to unrealistic levels, the irony couldn’t be more obvious.

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