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Her own magic circle

mumbai Updated: Mar 28, 2010 01:23 IST
Mini Pant Zachariah
Mini Pant Zachariah
Hindustan Times
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Solicitor Freya Zaiwalla is part of a London law firm with clients such as Sonia Gandhi, late Benazir Bhutto, late Narasimha Rao and the Bachchan brothers, but she’ll quickly tell you those are not her accomplishments.

Zaiwalla & Co was set up in 1982, by her father Sarosh Zaiwalla, who she credits for that client roster. The animated 29-year-old says her high comes from being part of a case that could set a legal precedent.

She cites the $300 million damages being claimed by businessman Jayesh Shah — the case can now go to trial following a ruling by the Court of Appeal in the UK earlier this month.

Shah, a Zaiwalla client, is suing HSBC Bank for financial losses after the bank, in 2006-07, reported his request — to transfer $28 million from his account with the bank to another account in Geneva — to the Serious Organised Crime Agency on suspicion of money laundering.

“This could force banks to review their policies on reporting suspected money laundering,” says Freya, who is in Mumbai as part of a delegation of the UK India Business Council.

Freya got herself a degree in Spanish and Portuguese studies from Manchester University, then studied law at the BPP Law School in London, before joining her father’s firm in 2009.

Zaiwalla senior, a Mumbai-born Parsi, was audacious enough to set up a law firm with an Indian name in the heart of London, then took on and won against the Magic Circle, a group of the top five law firms in the city. “I decided if I couldn’t join them, I must fight them,” he laughs. The two politicians may be from two ends of the spectrum, but Zaiwalla Sr has represented both Sonia and Maneka Gandhi in the UK.

For Sonia, he managed to stop an Italian film producer from making a movie on her life. Maneka he represented in a libel action against Harper Collins, publishers of a book on Indira Gandhi by Catherine Frank. And although Bofors is nearly history now, the Bachchan brothers trusted Zaiwalla to fight the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter in the kickbacks case.

Rao, the former prime minister, turned to Zaiwalla to fight the $100,000 fraud case filed by London-based businessman Lakhubhai Pathak. “From his bedroom in the Indian High Commission in London, Mr Rao briefed me about the case that was eventually dismissed,” he says.