Adding intrigue to the drama is a strong room in the disputed building, which is said to hold the royal family’s heirloom and documents.
The royal family of Kuwait is locked in a bitter dispute with a small-time Bollywood producer over a 7,000-sq ft apartment on Marine Drive, which the family claims has been illegally occupied by the filmmaker.
While the Rs 70-crore flat itself is worth fighting for, there is something more vital at stake here – the sea-facing apartment on the top floor of the Al-Sabah Court building houses a strong room belonging to the royal family. Though everybody is tight-lipped about the strong room’s contents, given the owner’s profile the Marine Drive police, who have received a complaint from the family’s caretaker, is not taking any chances.
The caretaker, former Kuwaiti consul-general Faizal Essa Al-Yousuf Al-Essa, in his complaint has accused the filmmaker Sanjay Punamiya of preventing a team of lawyers from MZM Legal from inspecting the apartment on Thursday.
Essa, 83, who left for Kuwait in April this year following a kidney replacement surgery after spending 40 years in India, has alleged that Punamiya forcibly occupied the flat in his absence. Punamiya, however, has a different story. He claims Essa handed over the flat’s tenancy to him in October 2012 for a rent of Rs 50,000 a month. In a private complaint at Esplanade Court, he has alleged that Essa threatened him at gun-point, asking him to vacate the property.
The entire Al-Sabah Court building was bought by the royal family in the early 1950s, while the neighbouring Al-Jaberia building is in possession of fellow royals, the Jabars of Kuwait. Both the properties are exempted from taxes under a diplomatic agreement between India and Kuwait.
Both properties were being looked after by Essa till 2010, when he requested the then king, His Highness Shaikh Saad Al-Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, to transfer Al-Jaberia’s administrative powers to a certain Nabil Darbar, while he continued looking after Al-Sabah. When the king passed away later that year, his heirs renewed Essa’s administrative powers over Al-Sabah.
Punamiya, sources said, had made an abortive attempt to take control of the top floor of Al-Jaberia too in 2011, by filing a complaint against Nabil Darbar similar to the one he has now made against Essa. The police, however, dismissed the complaint.
“I had made a cheque payment for the tenancy rights of which I have records. These were produced in court and also checked by Marine Drive police.
Essa has been misusing the property and rights given to a diplomat despite having retired forty years ago. The Indian government should have checked this,” Sanjay Punamiya told Mirror. “He had given me possession of the flat. But when he went to Kuwait and his employers pulled him up for this, he went back on his word, claiming he had made no deal with me,” he added.
Zulfiquar Memon of MZM Legal, however, denied this. “Punamiya has taken forceful possession of the apartment on the basis of a false complaint and fraudulent papers. Our client has never entered into any agreement with Punamiya nor has he ever given any possession of the property. The flat belongs to the royal family of Kuwait and our client has been the custodian of the said flat for years,” he said.