The Bombay High Court reserved its decision on petitions filed by businessman Raj Kundra and his associate Ryan Thorpe challenging their arrest in a case involving the alleged creation and streaming of pornographic content via apps on Monday.
The police in the HC argued that Kundra was not cooperating with the investigation in the case, which was filed in February this year by the Mumbai crime branch, and that he had destroyed evidence, which his lawyer refuted.
In their applications, Kundra (45), the husband of Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty, and Thorpe have claimed that their arrests were illegal, claiming that the mandatory provision of issuing notices to them under Section 41A of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) was not followed. In their petitions, the duo asked the Supreme Court to order their immediate release and to vacate two orders issued by a magistrate following their arrest that remanded them in police custody.
According to Section 41A, in cases where arrest is not warranted, the police may issue a summons to the accused person and record his or her statement. While Kundra was apprehended by the crime branch on July 19, Thorpe, Kundra’s firm’s IT head, was apprehended on July 20. The pair is now being held in jail under judicial custody.
Aruna Kamat Pai, the public prosecutor, told a single bench of Justice A S Gadkari on Monday that notices under Section 41A were issued to both Kundra and Thorpe prior to their arrest. “Kundra refused to accept it, but Thorpe did,” Pai explained.
She claimed that the accused (Kundra and Thorpe) were arrested as a result of their actions during police searches at their office on July 19.
“They were discovered deleting specific WhatsApp chats (Kundra and Thorpe). The applicant Raj Kundra’s demeanour speaks volumes about his cooperation in the investigation. We don’t know how much data was erased. The police are still looking for it “Pai stated. She also informed the court that section 201 of the IPC (destruction of evidence) was later used against the accused.
“Can the investigating agency be a mute spectator if accused persons are destroying evidence?” Pai wondered.
“Kundra is the app HotShots’ administrator (which is at the centre of the alleged porn racket). During searches, police seized a laptop from Kundra’s office, from which 68 porn videos were recovered. This is in addition to the 51 videos recovered from the Storage Area Network previously “Pai stated.
She also claimed that the police recovered sexually explicit scripts and a presentation on the financial projections and marketing strategy of HotShots and another similar app, BollyFame, from Kundra’s laptop.
Kundra’s counsel, Aabad Ponda, refuted the police’s allegations, claiming that the police seized all of his devices, including his phone and laptops, during the search. Thorpe’s counsel, Abhinav Chandrachud, contended that while a notice under 41A was issued to Thorpe, he was not given time to comply or respond.
“Thorpe was arrested before he could act on the notice,” he said.
Furthermore, Chandrachud stated that there were several discrepancies that called the prosecution’s case into question. Following the conclusion of the lawyers’ arguments, the HC reserved its decision on the petitions. Kundra also stated in his HC petition that the material claimed to be pornographic by the police did not depict explicit sexual acts, but rather material in the form of short movies “which are lascivious or appeal to the prurient interest of persons at best.”
In a related development, a sessions court reserved its decision on Kundra’s anticipatory bail application, which sought pre-arrest bail in a similar case involving porn content registered by the Mumbai police last year.
On August 7, the sessions court will rule on the pre-arrest bail plea.