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Bhatia 'saddened' by Jessica Lal case

Hotmail co-founder Sabeer Bhatia comments on the judicial system in the Jessica Lal case.

india Updated: Mar 07, 2006 14:11 IST

Iconic Indian American and Hotmail co-founder Sabeer Bhatia, fresh from testifying in a case in the US that helped convict an NRI businessman who used his name to defraud investors, is "saddened" by the way the accused in the murder of model Jessica Lal got away in India.

Sabeer testified in a US district court that he was in no way related to Lal Bhatia, who was convicted of duping investors to the tune of $1.7 million claiming business connections to Microsoft's Bill Gates, Dell Computers' Michael Dell and Sabeer Bhatia.

"I actually testified against him and because of which he was convicted. I changed my own schedule (to accommodate the hearing) because I was supposed to launch Blogeverywhere a month ago," Sabeer Bhatia told IANS here.

"The reason I could not come (to India earlier) is because I had to testify in that case and I am glad that I did, and I think that more and more people in India should as well," he said on the sidelines of the Blogeverywhere launch.

"I am really saddened to see that in the Jessica Lal case, people who witnessed this are not coming forward to testify. If people don't participate in the judicial system, then they don't have any right to make use of it.

"I knew that the system of law in the US had to be respected, so I made time from my busy schedule to go and testify in that case."

Lal Bhatia has been held guilty of nine counts of mail fraud and 18 counts of money laundering and could face up to 20 years in prison for every mail fraud and 10 years in prison for every charge of money laundering.

In the case of Jessica Lal, the former model was filling in as a celebrity barmaid in a south Delhi restaurant when she was shot in the wee hours of April 30, 1999. Following a seven-year trail in a Delhi court, all nine accused were acquitted of charges.

The decision of Additional Sessions Judge S.L. Bhayana to acquit all nine accused, including the prime accused Manu Sharma, son of a Haryana minister, for lack of evidence, was met with a huge public outcry deriding the Indian judicial system.

The primary reason for the acquittal of all the accused was the unwillingness of witnesses to depose before the court despite several hundred people - including senior police officials - being present at the scene at the time of the crime.

Asked whether cases like Lal Bhatia's could affect the perception of Indian Americans in the US, Sabeer said that one or two examples could not undo the good image of the Indian diaspora.

"There are good and bad in any community. Thank god that we have only one or two, it's not like a ten, or a hundred or a thousand," Sabeer said.

"I think the perception of Indians in America will not be tarnished (by one case). Indian Americans are so law abiding and have done so much positive that a minor case like this is irrelevant."

First Published: Mar 07, 2006 14:11 IST