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May 7, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/ Bina Ramani

'Journalists just hate anyone like me who is prominent'

Bina Ramani I n fact, but for the killing of Jessica Lal last week, Bina Ramani would probably not have had to worry on that score at all. "Bina seems to have a fatal attraction for money and controversy," says a friend-no-longer of Ramani's, "And that is what gets her into the headlines every time."

Headlines that may have catapulted her to fame in the past, but this time are proving a millstone around her neck. Ramani spoke to Suhasini Haidar over the telephone in New Delhi, only she said, because she wanted to counter all the bad press she has received in the past week, and to "set the record straight".

Since the day after the killing, you have been eluding the press...

Well, we were asked by the police not to speak to the press about what happens, and we followed that, and look at how we are being portrayed by you journalists. The dirt, the lies, the fabrication have really upset me over the last few days. So I thought I should at least set the record straight.

From what has emerged from the investigations in Jessica Lal's murder, you yourself have been accused of flouting many laws.

But there is no case against me. None at all.

What about the police statement that you are guilty of destroying evidence by ordering the bar to be cleaned of bloodstains?

What nonsense -- what possible motive could I or any member of my family have in destroying evidence? All I know is that I went after the murderer and tried to confront him. But he got away. I was shouting "Call the doctor, call the police" as I came back to the bar, and when I returned, the boys who work at the restaurant were mopping up the place. In any case, the bar had closed for the night, and they would have been cleaning it up anyway. I never ordered them or anything...

The bar itself seems to have been run illegally. You were selling alcohol without the required permits...

It didn't start like that. It was just that many of my friends and (my daughter) Malini's friends kept telling us that it was so beautiful at night, the weather was so perfect; everyone was begging us to keep the restaurant open one night in the week for parties. And then, as word got around, more and more people would come. As a result we found that we were always running out of drinks, and so we decided to have a system of coupons, where for Rs 100 you could buy a drink, or even food. That was all.

Wasn't even that illegal?

Well, I could explain to you that technically I also have a home at the Colonade (the murder site), and so there was nothing wrong with serving liquor there, but let's leave that aside. I will admit that we did the wrong thing by selling alcohol without a permit, but it didn't start that way, as I have told you. We had got our restaurant permit, and were expecting our excise permit for liquor within two weeks.

Look at the crowd that used to come to Once Upon a Time. If it was some sleazy illegal joint, do you really think the best of Delhi society would have come there? I mean, we had industrialists, heads of CII, lawyers, bureaucrats etc, none of whom would go to some shady place.

What about press reports that you are not even an Indian citizen?

That is correct, I am a British passport holder. I am not an Indian citizen. But I intend to co-operate fully with the police in this case, so what difference does that make? I'm not going anywhere.

Tell us what happened the night Jessica Lal was killed.

Ironically, we had just announced that night that we were closing the restaurant down for the summer, as it was getting too hot to be outdoors anyway. Perhaps because of that, the crowds just didn't want to leave. I mean normally we would have only 70 to 80 people at the restaurant. But that night, there must have been 250 people who came and left at various times. I had also called some friends over to wish my husband (Georges Mailhot) goodbye, as he was leaving in the morning for Canada, and I was to follow two weeks later.

We normally would close the bar down by 12 o'clock, but so many people wanted to just hang around, and so it got later. By about 1.45, the party had wound down. I was inside the restaurant, but not too close to the bar where I saw Jessica speaking with a group of men. I can't say if she knew them from before or not. And then I heard a pop, and saw that Jessica had fallen, and these men were walking away.

It was awful. I ran behind them and even tried to stop them, but I couldn't. My husband even went to the police station, which was only two minutes away, but returned because there wasn't any officer there. They finally came 45 minutes later.

Why are you so upset with the press coverage of you in the incident?

You know, my daughter Malini has already had a nervous breakdown after that night. But after reading the lies, the vicious fabrications in the press, my daughter Geetu, who is in New York sounds like she will have one too. She gets so worried when she reads that Malini is in hospital, or that we are all going to jail, according to these rags that call themselves newspapers.

I believe that journalists just hate anyone like me who is prominent. There is this huge campaign against me, they all say, "let's just get Bina Ramani." But I don't care. I will stay strong through this trial and the truth will prevail. The god within me is very strong. I am so glad that the killer (Manu Sharma aka Siddharth Vashisht) has been caught. I don't know him at all, but I remember his face. And I will identify him.

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