Murder most foul: 19 years on, US citizen’s death remains unresolved | Mumbai news

Mumbai: A Thane court on Saturday granted a 14-day judicial custody to 48-year-old Vipul Patel, one of the four accused in the 19-year-old case involving the murder of a United States citizen in Mumbai.

Patel was acquitted by a lower court in the 2003 murder of 33-year-old model Leona Swiderski. The state has challenged the verdict and the Bombay High Court (HC), which is hearing an appeal against Patel and Svidarski’s fianc ಪ್ರ Pragyesh Mahendrakumar Desai, issued a non-bailable warrant against the two last year.

Desai was arrested by police in March last year and Interpol has issued a Red Corner Notice as Patel has fled the country. Patel was arrested in Prague last month, and a four-member team headed by Deputy DCP Amit Kali of 9 DCP Zone-1 brought Patel to the city on Friday. He will be produced before the High Court on Monday. Desai, who is currently out on bail, was accused of agreeing to pay Patel for kidnapping and murdering Svidarski. Patel, in turn, hired Altaf Ghafoor Patel and Farooq Banarasi (who was never arrested) to commit the crime.

But Patel said he was not involved in the murder. “I have been living in England with my wife and baby for the last 20 years and working as a plant engineer. I was in Prague one day for some work. I was not involved in the murder and was not in the city when the incident took place. I was already feeling a lot of pressure but was acquitted because the police could not prove my involvement. “I lost my job after being deported,” Patel said.

Here is a glimpse of the jammed case.

On February 8, 2003, Desai (then 39) landed at Mumbai’s International Airport with her fianc,, aspiring fashion model Leona Swidarski (33). Desai, a naturalized US citizen, lived in New Jersey, where he owned two convenience stores in Cliffside Park and Wood-Ridge and a restaurant in Manhattan.

However, shortly after landing, Desai Sahar contacted police at the airport and said her future husband was missing. He told them that they had separated after he got off his Air India flight and went to the airport washroom. When he came out, he was nowhere to be found.

On the same day, around 12.30 pm, the body of a Caucasian woman was found in a deserted area along the Mumbai-Ahmedabad National Highway. An autopsy revealed that the woman was strangled to death and Kashmiri police have recorded it as a murder case.

When they discovered that a foreigner was missing from the Mumbai airport, Kashimira police immediately contacted Desai to identify the corpse. Desai’s friend Rashmikumar went to the station accompanied by Kshatriya.

During the Kshatriya inquiry, he told the police that Desai was behind the murder and conspired with Baroda’s longtime friend Vipul Patel. Patel had hired two Baroda residents – Altaf and Banarasi. He allegedly killed Swiderski and dispose of her body.

Desai and Svidarski had visited Baroda in January and informed the Kshatriya police that a plot to kill her had been made before him.

According to Sanjay Hazare, Senior Police Inspector Kashmira Police Station, one of the policemen who brought Patel from Prague, Altaf, Farooq and Patel was waiting in the blue sedan at the airport parking lot. The couple left the arrival gate at around 3.30am and walked to the parking lot. When Swiderski got into the car, the chloroform plated napkin was placed over her mouth and then strangled. Desai was dropped at the arrival gate with his luggage, but the car left the body. He threw a corpse along the national highway, and one of the attackers removed the diamond ring of Svidarski.

Another case in the USA

On May 5, 2003 – while his trial was pending in Thane Sessions Court – the United States New Jersey District Court filed a complaint against Desai and Patel, accusing Swiderski of trying to make $ 1 million in fraud. Life insurance policy. A court warrant was issued for his arrest.

Two days later, the US embassy requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to temporarily detain Desai for the purpose of handing him over to stand trial for alleged insurance fraud. On July 23, 2003, the embassy filed an objection to Desai’s request for extradition.

The US indictment, based on the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigation after Swiederski’s death, Desai and Patel conspired to kill Swidersky in January 2003, when Desai bought him two half-million dollar life insurance policies. (US $ 405 and US $ 425 each). Her intention was to kill her upon her arrival in India and pay the insurance amount in the US.

HT has seen a copy of the indictment.

According to the plan, on January 14, 2003, Desai met Patel at the Kshatriya residence in Baroda (referred to as RK in the indictment), where it was decided that Desai Patel would pay him. 30 lakhs to kill Svidarski Patel had to get them 6.5 lakh of this amount. On January 28, he asked “RK” to pay the amount 10 lakh as partial payment for the murder system.

Desai had bought Air India Flight 144 from Newark to Mumbai on January 29, 2003, and told Patel that he would arrive in Mumbai on February 8 morning.

Acquittal by Thane court

Back home, Desai and Patel were charged with conspiracy, murder and destruction of evidence and were being tried in Thane Sessions Court.

On September 26, 2003, the court acquitted both Desai and Patel for lack of competent evidence. The court refused to accept the Kshatriya statement filed before the magistrate as valid evidence and said the special judicial magistrate had failed to confirm that the witness was voluntarily disclosing it. In a statement issued to the Kshatriya Trial Court, Kashatriya said that he was detained at Kashmira Police Station from February 8 (when Desai visited the police station with him) till February 15 (the day his statement was recorded).

“Therefore, in the case of conspiracy to murder Leona Svidarski, there is no consent except for the words of PW (Prosecution witness) 7 Namdev Kirdat (Special Judicial Magistrate) and PW9 Goodrao Kadam (Investigator of the case). The court stated that the prosecution had failed to prove the allegations reasonably suspicious.

As for the actual murder, the court stated that the investigator had not collected any direct or circumstantial evidence to prove the charge of murder and destruction of evidence.

The trial court rejected the seizure memo on February 13, 2003, when Kashimira police seized two luggage bags and a shoulder bag from Patel’s residence in Baroda. Also, the cash was seized by the police 19.50 lakh in Indian and US currencies.

The court rejected the seizure memo primarily in view of the adverse times mentioned – police said they reached Baroda between 10am and 10.30am on February 13, but the Panchamana said they started at 8.35 am and finished at 7.30 pm. The court stated that the time quoted in the memo gives “ample opportunity for suspicion” and has refused to take the record into consideration.

Desai was re-arrested on October 8 of the same year following his extradition request, but was released on bail two days later by the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Thane. On October 23, the MEA issued an order under Section 5 of the Alienation Act, 1962 and accordingly Desai was arrested again on November 29, 2003 and remanded to Tihar Jail.

After his bail application was rejected on December 19, 2003, Desai had filed a petition with the Delhi High Court challenging his extradition, but it was rejected on February 5, 2004. The Maharashtra government appealed to the Bombay High Court challenging the acquittal of Desai and Patel. .

Thus, Desai remained in India and attended the Bombay High Court for an appeal hearing. But Patel left the country in 2004. In February 2021, when the appeal was pending, the Bombay High Court observed that Patel did not appear before the court and informed the court that his lawyer Nitin Sejpal had blocked Patel (the lawyer). ) Phone number.

But Patel said there was no communication from his lawyer. “The number they tried was my old number. If I had been approached the right way, I would have been in court and not issued a non-bailable warrant, ”he said.

The High Court took the matter seriously and instructed the state government to take steps to ensure Patel’s presence before the court on appeal. In November, the state government told the court that the police had appealed to the Center to begin Patel’s extradition proceedings as there was no reliable information that Patel was residing in England. Red Corner Notice was issued by Interpol, and on January 24, 2022, HC was informed that Patel was being tracked in the Czech Republic. On February 21, 2022, lawyer Hrishikesh Mundaragi told HC that he had surrendered to Czech authorities in the extradition proceedings against him.

(With inputs from Vinay Dalvi, Anamika Gharat and Charul Shah)

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