The two Indian traders who were held hostage in the city of Yiwu for two weeks in December and now stand accused of owing 10 million RMB ($1.58 million) will on Monday begin a legal battle to clear their names and bring to book Chinese businessmen alleged to be behind their kidnapping.
In their first face-to-face interview since the month-long ordeal, Deepak Raheja and Shyamsunder Agarwal told The Hindu they were determined to leave China “only with our names cleared”. The two traders also recounted the horrors of their abduction, during which they said they were tortured, denied food and faced daily beatings.
They have asked External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, who will arrive in Beijing on a three-day visit on Tuesday, to take up their case forcefully with Chinese authorities to ensure their safety and a fair trial when they appear before a Yiwu court on March 1.
In an interview in a Shanghai café, near a hotel where the two traders have been in hiding since they were taken out of Yiwu by officials from the Indian Consulate on January 4, the two traders revealed they will also file a criminal case with a higher intermediate court in Zhejiang province, where Yiwu is located, on Monday against their 15 Chinese suppliers, accusing them of kidnapping and attempt to murder.
The traders will also demand compensation for the trauma they faced during their abduction, and to be returned the 900,000 RMB (around $143,000) they had paid to suppliers as they attempted to secure their release.
They have sought an audience with Mr. Krishna next week in Beijing, and have urged him to seek assurances from the Chinese government to avoid a repeat of a December 31 court hearing in Yiwu, during which an Indian diplomat from the Shanghai Consulate, S. Balachandran, was manhandled in the presence of police. The traders allege they were denied a fair hearing and not provided protection.
The two traders bore marks of a traumatic two months, which saw them first being held captive by their suppliers for two weeks and later holed up in a Yiwu hotel fearing for their lives, before they were escorted to Shanghai by Indian officials.
Mr. Raheja from Hyderabad, dressed in a wrinkled coat and wearing a blue baseball cap, sported a white stubble and walked unsteadily. He said doctors in a Shanghai hospital found tissue damage in several parts of his body, on account of repeated beatings. “We were beaten every single day for two weeks,” he said. He will submit medical records in his case against the suppliers.
The two traders worked for a Hong Kong-registered trading company that is accused of owing Chinese suppliers 10 million RMB. The traders deny they were partners in the firm, and say that the missing owner of the firm, a Yemeni national named Mahar Faud Husain Bazara, is responsible for the outstanding payments. Whether they can prove this claim will decide the outcome of the case.
The traders say they joined the company a year ago after meeting Firoze Khan, a Dubai-based trader from Rajasthan, who was responsible for handling the company's transactions in China and signing its bank documents.
Mr. Raheja said he had documents to prove he was not a partner in the firm, as alleged by Chinese suppliers and prosecutors. Complicating the case are papers signed by Mr. Raheja and Mr. Agarwal that were produced before a Yiwu court, acknowledging that they owed 10 million RMB. The traders, however, say the papers were signed under duress.
Bank records show Mr. Bazara had made a payment of one million RMB to suppliers on December 14. He flew to Guangzhou that day, and subsequently disappeared. Chinese suppliers stormed the trading office in Yiwu on the night of December 14, and abducted the two Indian traders, holding them until the December 31 hearing.
Mr. Raheja said he had provided all the information he could to both Indian and Chinese authorities to help locate Mr. Khan and Mr. Bazara.
Until they are found, Chinese prosecutors appear reluctant to let the two Indian traders go, with dozens of angry Chinese traders insisting that someone at the company be held responsible for their dues. Until the March 1 hearing, the Indian traders face an uncertain wait at the small Shanghai hotel that has become their home. Both Mr. Raheja and Mr. Agarwal said they were grateful to the Indian Consulate in Shanghai and in particular to Consul-General Riva Ganguly Das for providing them with a place to stay, monetary assistance as well as helping arrange legal help. “I have lost all my savings and have to start from scratch,” Mr. Raheja said. “But for now, all I want to do is clear my name.”