A Billionaire, Sabotage and a Mysterious Death
It could be a story line worthy of “Law & Order,” the Indian version.
A technician reported last week that someone had tampered with a private helicopter of Anil Ambani, one of India’s wealthiest industrialists, while it was parked at a Mumbai airport. Then, on Tuesday, the technician, Bharat Borge, was found dead on railroad tracks in Mumbai. He was carrying a letter that mentioned the tampering investigation, Mr. Borge’s family and officials of Mr. Ambani’s company said.
Cut to the detectives arriving at the crime scene.
Debate raged in India on Wednesday over whether Mr. Borge had committed suicide, had been pushed or was yet another accidental victim of the trains, which kill an average of 10 people a day.
The case has become a cause célèbre in India, not just because of the mystery around the technician’s death but also because it involves Mr. Ambani, the billionaire chairman of the Reliance ADA Group, whose company straddles industries including telecommunications, energy and movies.
The Mumbai police were investigating both the tampering and Mr. Borge’s death. They said Wednesday that he had died of multiple fractures and a brain hemorrhage.
Last Thursday, Mr. Borge, who was employed by Air Works, the company that maintains Mr. Ambani’s helicopter, noticed that a cap on the helicopter’s gearbox was ajar as he was preparing it for a flight the next day, according to Reliance. The copter is used only by Mr. Ambani, his family and top company executives. Mr. Ambani uses it at least three times a week to commute from his home in Mumbai to the company’s office there, to avoid the city’s notoriously bad traffic.
When Mr. Borge opened the cap, which is about 10 feet off the ground, he saw pebbles and gravel in the intake to the gearbox and he reported it to a supervisor, Reliance said.
The pebbles must have been deliberately placed there, and the act was “clearly an attempt to murder,” R. N. Joshi, a senior pilot with Reliance Transport and Travels, said Friday in a letter addressed to the chief minister of Maharashtra, the state that includes Mumbai. Reliance Transport and Travels is part of the Reliance ADA Group.
“Shortly after taking off, the pebbles would have entered into the gearbox and would have caused midair loss of power,” which could have forced the grounding or crash of the copter, Mr. Joshi said.
Reliance ADA Group said Wednesday that Mr. Ambani was now traveling to work by car.
On Wednesday, the government of Maharashtra ruled out corporate rivalry as a motive for the tampering. Jayant Patil, the state’s home minister, said in a televised news conference that the state had “not found any evidence that there is a corporate rivalry between two groups” to cause the incident.
Mr. Borge’s family, though, claims foul play was involved. His brother Sambhaji said Wednesday in a television interview with CNN-IBN that Mr. Borge could not have committed suicide.
The letter Mr. Borge was carrying, which several relatives had seen, said he had been “facing troubles” in recent days, his brother said, adding that “something fishy” had been going on.