Mumbai Tabloid Says, 26/11 Hero Is A Fake
Mumbai Mirror reported on Sunday that one of the survivors of the 26/11 attacks, UK based businessman 37-year-old Deepak Kuntawala has faked his reported act of heroism.
The report said immediately after their providential escape, Deepak Kuntawala (37) and his father Vinay (60) gave interviews to leading London-based publications who were eager to get a first-hand account from ground zero, recounting how their actions saved around 150 lives that night.
“No-one knew what to do, so I took charge,” Deepak Kuntawala told the British media. “We tore up the curtains and any material we could get our hands on. I made people get into four teams and pretty quickly we had our makeshift ropes ready. We tied them to pillars. People were fighting to go down first. But I restored calm and made sure people got down OK, starting with the elderly and then the women. It took 30 minutes.”
A few days later, Kuntawala received an award from the hands of Maharashtra Governor as a ‘surviving hero'.
He returned triumphant to London where he decided to set up The DVK Foundation that aims to help survivors and families of the victims of 26/11.
Queen Elizabeth's first cousin, Prince Michael of Kent, agreed to be patron of The DVK Foundation and personally hosted a gala charity on the first anniversary of 26/11 at the Kensington Palace in London.
The event was attended by several leading Bollywood names including Lara Dutta, Kabeer Bedi, Konkona Sen-Sharma, Pooja Bedi, Shekhar Kapur, Boman Irani and Arshad Warsi, besides several of London's movers and shakers including Prince Michael himself.
The night was a grand success with an impressive 2,50,000 pounds pledged in support of The DVK Foundation. But things started unravelling for Deepak Kuntawala soon after.
Reports surfaced that Kuntawala's claims of saving 150 people during the 26/11 attacks could be a selfserving account of the sequence of events that night, supported only by his own claims, and backed only by his father. Neither the Mumbai media, the local police, the Taj authorities – no one – had any idea who the man was. Neither did anyone seem to know about his bragging to UK-based publications.
The Mumbai Mirror report says, Deepak dramatically told one such publication that he was dining at the Sea Lounge when “I looked out into the harbour and saw a few boats coming ashore. They were full of hunched men, dressed in black. It reminded me of a scene in the film Under Siege.”
The fact is that the dinghy carrying the terrorists docked at a small jetty in Machchimaar Nagar, which falls between Cuffe Parade and Nariman Point, and definitely not visible from the windows of the Sea Lounge.
Meanwhile the South Indian Education Society (SIES), which was seeking out survivors of the attack to felicitate them at function they had organised, where the Governor was a guest, spotted the interview and decided to include Kuntawala in the list for citations.
The citation liberally quoted from Kuntawala's own claims to the British media, mostly because SIES had no reason to doubt and little time for verification.
SIES President V Shankar told Mumbai Mirror, “The decision to award him was taken based on a report of Kuntawala's bravery. We verified the claims with Kuntawala and his father. The details could not be confirmed by the hotel or the police.”
But Kuntawala confidently told this paper that the wording of the citation was “drafted by the Governor and his advisors,” a claim that has been rubbished by Raj Bhawan.
In London, Kuntawala apparently met Prince Michael of Kent and on the basis of the citation, his picture with the Governor, and published media interviews, convinced him to become patron of the DVK Foundation floated by him.
The letterhead of the foundation, which is in the possession of Mumbai Mirror, also carries the logos of two reputed watchdogs – the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF) and the Fundraising Standards Board (FSRB). Investigations have revealed that this may have been an attempt to mislead.
Carol Mack, the deputy chief executive of the Association of Charitable Foundations categorically said, “The DVK Foundation is/has not been a member of ACF and we are not associated with them.”
Meanwhile, FSRB told Mumbai Mirror that while DVF Foundation has signed up with them, it doesn't mean that they vouch for its activities or credentials.
“Our role is not to endorse the activities of the DVK Foundation or the activities of any of our 1000+ members that have signed up,” said Kory McLeod, membership and compliance manager of FSRB, adding, “Where a member falls short… we have processes for dealing with them which may include carrying out an investigation.”
Further investigation showed that DVK Foundation may not be registered with the Charity Commission in London. In fact, it is neither a trust nor a charity, but a privately-held company (Registration number 07034081).
It also emerged that Kuntawala attended another charity auction, hosted by Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur, barely a few weeks before his own gala at Kensington Palace. The big ticket event also boasted guests such as Amitabh Bachchan, Sir Ben Kingsley, Duchess of York and Hollywood actress Sigourney Weaver.
An eyewitness revealed to Mumbai Mirror, “Among the many items being auctioned were tickets to the London premiere of Avatar, with Sigourney Weaver for company. Kuntawala won them with a bid of 13,000 pounds and was congratulated by everyone present, including Sigourney. But not only did he constantly delay payment, he actually put them up for auction at his own event. We were aghast how he could sell something he had neither paid for nor owned.”
Kuntawala also made contact with Suki Dusanj, who handled some parts of the Gaj Singh event, and asked her to media manage his upcoming gala being hosted by Prince Michael of Kent, and get in Bollywood stars. Suki got in touch with her sister Parveen, who is Kabir Bedi's girlfriend and things started rolling.
But horror was in store for all the vendors Kuntawala had engaged through Suki to put together the charity night at Kensington. DVK first delayed and disputed the invoices of everyone right from the travel agent, the London transport company, the PR firm and the event organiser, and then sent out repeated erroneous remittances, which meant the payments were never actually made, copies of which are available with us.
In one instance, the numeric figure mentioned in the Barclays Bank remittance by DVK to East West Travels was ‘Rs 15,299.74' while the amount in words was specified as ‘Fifteen laks two hundred ninety nine & seventy four rupees only.'
Later, Kuntawala's media manager said, “It is understood that due to bank transmission protocols, two attempted electronic remittances were delayed. Deepak Kuntawala, personally compensated the travel agency by covering any of the travel agency's bank interest charges due to the delay.”
Documents in the possession of Mumbai Mirror prove otherwise. When the paper finally got in touch with Kuntawala, telling him we had evidence and witnesses and were alerting Prince Michael's office, his version of the fateful 26/11 was extremely watered down – and didn't include even a passing mention of having saved any lives, forget 150.
“My father and I were having a snack in the Sea Lounge when the terror attack began. Given the danger we escaped into the Banqueting Room which is next to the Sea Lounge,” Kuntawala said.
Far from rallying guests and forming escape teams, Kuntawala was busy saving himself and his terrified father. At 3 am, when the gunshots became intense, he was scurrying to find a better hiding place. “I checked whether it was safe to escape and ran back into the Banqueting room to collect my father and anyone else who wanted to come.”
The shimmy down the broken windows was a frantic affair. In Kuntawala's own words, “Our escape from the Taj happened under an intense and dark situation which flashed past very quickly.” Asked whether there was anyone who could verify his more ambitious claims, he said, “It would be very difficult to recall anyone especially as the room was already being filled with black smoke and it was pitch dark.”
Meanwhile Kuntawala's media manager, Natasha Mudar, wrote back making an appeal that “Mr Kuntawala and his family have faced yet another knock down and is constantly experiencing stress related symptoms. All he really asks for is a chance to reshape his life.”
But Kabir Bedi, who anchored the Kensington Palace night, is horrified by the affair. Though legally, as patron, Prince Michael is not liable for the conduct of the DVK foundation, Bedi feels he cannot escape moral responsibility for endorsing this dubious affair.
“How did Prince Michael of Kent allow himself to become patron of the DVK Foundation, created by a man making fraudulent claims of heroism during 26/11? We trusted in Prince Michael's endorsement of DVK. What due diligence checks did he do on foundation of which he became a patron?”
Meanwhile the vendors, have been running from pillar to post for payments from Kuntawala for almost two months now.
Aparna Manghnani, who owns East West Travels, says, “Since I personally know Kabir and trusted the goodwill of Prince Michael, I agreed to work with just 50 per cent advance payment. It never came. DVK then srtarted delaying payments on one excuse after another, pushing me to the brink of financial ruin. I have lost all hope now and have contacted an attorney in London to start legal proceedings against the foundation.”
London-based KSPARK and Woodthorpe Communications, who handled entertainment and public relations respectively, are also in the process of issuing writs against the company.
Meanwhile, there is word that Kuntawala himself is arriving in Mumbai on Tuesday, this time “on a fact finding mission to ascertain what the Chabad requires in terms of a Kitchen – DVK and Chabad House will then re-build the kitchen.”
The funds, which apparently will be used, is the money already collected at the Kensington event. Whether or not Kuntawala is planning another charity gala in Mumbai now is not known.