Song Wen Hui spoke softly but surely.
“They were good friends. I welcomed them to Yiwu. We had dinner in Indian restaurants. I even recovered their lost passports and suitcases,” Song said, tracing his relationship and business deals involving artificial jewellery from Yiwu with two Indian traders Deepak Raheja and SS Agrawal – deals that fell apart late last year, leading to the Indians getting kidnapped, issuing of advisories against doing business in Yiwu followed by a protracted legal battle for the stranded Indians in Shanghai.
Wearing a modest t-shirt, jeans and snickers, Song sat uncomfortably on the plush sofa inside a mall last week, telling his story to Indian journalists for the first time.
The case, as per Song’s version, wasn’t all black and white. Song said he was left bankrupt with a wife and child to feed after the Indians defaulted on promised payments. “I had done business with at least 50 Indians before. There was no problem.”
For a few months after he met Raheja through the Chinese trading portal of Alibaba, things went smooth as well.
“I met Deepak in June in Yiwu and he placed an order for artificial jewellery after paying a deposit. He paid the cash and the delivery was made,” Song, speaking through a translator, said.
In October, the Indians requested to do business on credit.
“Between October and December, all payments were delayed. By end of November, we (Song and 15 other traders) found that Deepak’s intention was to leave for India. Their office was locked. We were owed 12 million Yuan," he said, adding: "It was not just an economic case. It was deception."
Was it around that time that Chinese traders decide to take the two hostages for the money? And is it right to when law is taken over by vigilantes?
“I liked to remain silent on that,” he said. Eventually, Song admitted that he and four others were arrested by the Yiwu police and were in custody for 15 days. They were charged with holding the Indians in illegal detention.
Chinese officials hope the incident will not impact trade. “Individual trade rows should not come in way of good trade and political relations between India and China,” Dr Tao Tao, Vice Mayor said.
For now, Song is now looking forward to the court to deliver justice. “Everyone’s legal rights should be protected; rights of foreigners and local businessmen. I wish they (the Indians) could pay us the remaining money in installments and resolve the case,” Song said. More than 300 km away in Shanghai, the two Indians would also agree.