Actress Aishwarya Rai was on Monday questioned by the Customs authorities at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, in connection with the controversial parcel that came on her name from Netherlands.
Rai was shown the parcel and asked of its knowledge. The entire procedure last about two hours. During questioning, Rai denied knowledge about the parcel and even refused that she knew the sender whose name is given as Avineshwar. She was subsequently given clean chit for the time being, said Commissioner of Customs (Import) A K Prasad.
Clad in white shirt and denims, Rai came to the airport at about 12 noon with her mother Vrinda and lawyer Girish Kulkarni. She met Prasad, Additional Commissioner of Customs, Special Investigation and Intelligence Branch (SIIB) H S Narang and Deputy Commissioner of Customs (SIIB) J P Singh. The questioning was done by Narang and Singh.
The parcel containing a DVD player, a pair of binoculars, a T-Shirt, two Nokia mobile phones had come from Rotterdam in September end on Rai’s Khar address. She presently stays in Bandra. The authorities had sent two letters to her at the Khar address which were undelivered.
A Customs officer then spoke to her secretary Hari Singh conveying the message that she has to meet the authorities to answer certain questions. Last week her father Krishnaraj met Prasad and assured him that Rai would answer the questions by next (now this) week.
When asked, Prasad said that Rai was looking nervous. "Only the innocent person is nervous when called for questioning. The guilty comes confidently," said Prasad hinting that Rai is innocent in the case. He also said that for the time being the Customs has given her clean chit.
Rai’s lawyer Girish Kulkarni claimed that she was not at all nervous. "You are nervous only if you are any way linked," said Kulkarni.
Kulkarni added that the questioning went on for about an hour and the rest time went in opening the sealed package and showing it to Rai. "She denied knowledge of the parcel and the sender," said Kulkarni. He added that Rai is ready to give any more clarifications, if the department needs.
About the future course of action, Prasad said that they would investigate the other end now. He added that they would go through the diplomatic channel to get hold of the sender.
Calling the actress to the airport Customs office instead of the Customs House at Ballard Pier has raised some eyebrows. Some Customs officers and lawyers said that she got special treatment for being a celebrity.
Advocate Sujay Kantawala who handles Customs related cases said that the department doesn’t give this kind of facility to everyone. "This is an extra-ordinary facility. Now the officers of investigating agency have been physically extended to meet individual needs," said Kantawala.
He added, "Now every person who is investigated can chose the place as per his convenience."
Prasad, however, refused that any special treatment was given to Rai. "That is also Customs office. We did not go to her house or anywhere else. It’s a Mumbai Customs office and we can call her there under the Customs Act," said Prasad.
Kulkarni also refused that any special treatment was given to her. "In the first place they shouldn’t have called her. She was not concerned with the case and despite that she was called. What is special facility in this?" he asked.