The lawfirm that saved Amitabh Bachchan, Zaiwalla & Co, the first Indian-owned City of London solicitors, marked the 40th anniversary of their formation at a packed and elegant reception at London’s distinguished Victoria and Albert Museum on Wednesday evening.
Established by Mumbai-born Sarosh Zaiwalla, in 1990, the firm shot to fame in India when acting on behalf of filmstar Amitabh Bachchan and his brother Ajitabh in a suit connected with the Bofors arms controversy at the London High Court.
A Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter had reported that the Bachchans, friends of the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, received unlawful money in the deal to buy field guns for the Indian Army from AB Bofors, a Swedish manufacturer. Amitabh Bachchan sued the publication for defamation.
After a dramatic hearing, Amitabh Bachchan won, thereby not just exonerating themselves, but Gandhi, who on news media had been virtually accused of corruption or at least being aware of wrongdoing. He denied the charge and the matter never came to court, before being abandoned by the BJP-led government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Gandhi was killed by a Sri Lankan Tamil suicide bomber in 1991.
More recently, Zaiwalla & Co has been in the news taking up cudgels for the Venezuelan central bank against its British counterpart the Bank of England (BoE) to reclaim $1.95 billion worth of gold deposited with the latter. The dispute will be heard on appeal by Zaiwalla in the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court. India, too, has gold in safekeeping with the BoE.
Gopi Hinduja, co-chairman of the London-based Hinduja Group, who 32 years ago asked Zaiwalla to represent Amitabh Bachchan, was the chief guest at the reception. Speaking at the function, he said: “The FTA (free trade agreement being negotiated between Britain and India) will make it very easy for Indian law firms to work here as well as British law firms to work in India.”
Among the many prominent figures who attended the celebration the one who cased the most flutter was Indian businessman Vijay Mallya, who is fighting against extradition sought by the Narendra Modi government to India. He claimed his now defunct Kingfisher Airline – whose failure got him into difficulty – has repaid more than it owed Indian banks as a result of Indian law enforcement agencies auctioning his assets in India.