I am sure you have heard of Mr AK. He is famous, or should I say, infamous. He left a huge packet of bad debts with banks in India and absconded to the UK, where he continues to live in his normal billionaire style, while fending off extradition attempts by the government of India.
It is commonly believed to be next to impossible to recover money from AK once his business has gone bust. With due modesty, I must say that I did recover money from AK, though just a miniscule amount—US$2mn (million).
Yes, you cannot recover money from AK the easy way, the legal way, even the difficult way, but you can, the dirty way.
In the mid-1990s, AK spread his business wings and set up a venture in the Middle East. He opened a flamboyant office in a most ghastly coloured building on one of the main roads of Dubai, the reason being that the building attracted attention which it did, indeed. He sailed in aboard his mega yacht, complete with a royal suite with 'his' and 'hers' bathrooms, space for six couples to sleep and a crew of 12 including a cordon bleu chef. He met the important sheikhs and business magnates, and generally tried to stamp his personality on the city’s business segment.
AK’s main business in our city was selling luxury boats to the rich and famous, of which there were plenty in the country. He had sent two of his trusted lieutenants, RN and SP, to set up and run the show. Unfortunately, our subsidiary bank, over whose credit I didn’t have control at the time, lent this enterprise US$2mn.
Six months later, two things happened: credit for the subsidiary bank came into my domain, and the loan to AK’s boat supplying business went sour. The problem—how to recover the money—fell into my lap.
Age old wisdom says—before you try to find a solution, find the facts. I set about doing that.
I found that, as security for the loan, we had been assigned pledges over two luxury boats that the company was planning to sell. I asked the branch credit guys to find out everything they could about these two boats.
They came back with some very interesting news.
One of the boats was lying in the harbour. When our credit chap went to check on the boat, a French guy met him and disclosed some revealing facts:
- He was the captain of the crew that had sailed the boat to the harbour from the shipyard where it had been built, and was now charged with looking after the boat until she was handed over to the eventual buyer.
- He had not been paid for six weeks and was mighty pissed off.
- A sheikh had arrived at the harbour two days ago and had registered the boat in his name by putting pressure on the harbour authorities.
On further enquiry, we found that this sheikh had ordered an identical boat from AK’s company and had already paid nearly 70% of the sale price as advance. But his boat was not coming because AK’s company had not made timely progress payments to the shipyard, despite getting the money from the sheikh. Evidently, the company had serious cash-flow problems.
The sheikh had flown into a rage at the delay and had forcibly taken over ownership of the boat moored in the harbour which was supposed to be pledged to our bank.
The moment I heard this, I knew we had AK’s company by its b…s!
I went into a huddle with Mohan, the credit head at the branch, and hatched a plan.
The first step was to get a certified copy of the harbour registration of the boat (with its unique identification number) which showed that the sheikh, and not AK’s company, owned it. Mohan got this done.
The next step was to get the company to give us a letter, signed by its authorised signatories, confirming that the company owned the boat and had pledged it to us.
The third step was to get RN and SP, the two lieutenants of AK, who ran the company and were its authorised signatories, to come to the bank with this letter.
Mohan spun them a story: the credit boss at HO (me) was getting very worried about the overdue loan and wanted some firm assurances about its payback. Hence, RN and SP had to prepare a very comforting letter assuring the bank that its money was safe, and that two boats (one of which being the boat in question), which were owned by the company, continued to be pledged to the bank as security. It would be very reassuring if RN and SP could meet the credit boss in person and hand over this letter.
RN and SP agreed. The last thing they wanted was to have the bank breathing down their necks. They gladly agreed to the letter and the meeting, relieved to buy some time, blissfully unaware that we already knew all about the boat.
The meeting was, intentionally, arranged for the following Wednesday at 11am. It proceeded smoothly, with me expressing satisfaction at the assurances given by RN and SP in the letter and they, in turn, being visibly relieved. In the meantime, Mohan slipped off with the letter.
The next thing RN and SP saw were two officers from crime investigation department (CID) who charged them with fraud and took them away to the lockup.
We had tipped off the CID that the company was defrauding the bank and that firm proof would be presented to them. The CID officers had been waiting in an adjoining room.
Mohan gave them the proof:
- A written confirmation from the company, signed by its authorised signatories, to the effect that a particular boat was owned by the company and had been pledged to the bank.
- A certified document evidencing that the boat was actually owned by a sheikh, not the company.
This constituted a fraud. Under Shariah law, which governed commercial disputes, fraud was a bad, bad thing. A fraudster would go to jail, directly to jail, not passing any Go sign, and have stale biryani for umpteen years unless he paid up for the losses caused by the fraud.
Mohan and I sat back and waited.
The police lockup is not a pleasant place, particularly if you are in a large cell in the company of thugs of all description. RN and SP had a very unpleasant night and could look forward to several more of the same because the next day was Thursday when very little happened, followed by Friday when nothing happened.
AK’s corporate empire was shaken up. Two senior men, AK’s near and dear henchmen, were in jail! The flunkies in the company realised that fast action was needed, and the only person who could save RN and SP was AK himself.
On Thursday morning at 9am my phone rang. It was AK, calling from Los Angeles.
“Nomoskar dada, kemon aachen?’ he started. Then followed 30 minutes of explaining, pleading, and emphasising the urgent need to get RN and SP out of the lockup.
My calculations were right. AK would not dump two of his closest men for just two million dollars – very bad for morale in his empire, you see. Had it been a hundred million dollars…well, that was a different matter. After all, every man had his price!
I listened patiently to AK’s pleas but held my ground. I would be delighted to have RN and SP released, I repeatedly said, as soon as I got the two million dollars. At last, AK relented and promised to pay that very day.
True to his promise, at 11am a bank pay order for the equivalent of two million dollars landed on my table. Within an hour, RN and SP were released from the lockup. I was later told that they took the 2pm flight to Bombay, never to be seen again in Dubai.
Yes, the boss has to do it the dirty way, sometimes.
And, if you are dealing with a man like AK, it is the only way.
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee did an MBA in the US and returned to India. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post-retirement, he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world (until Covid, that is), playing bridge, befriending Netflix & Prime Video and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)