After a month of swirling rumours in business, cricket and media circles, it was confirmed on Tuesday morning that Ness Wadia, elder son of Nusli Wadia, chairman of the 283-year-old Wadia Group, had received a two-year jail sentence, suspended for five years, in Japan for possession of drugs.
The Financial Times of London reported that Wadia, 47, was arrested in early March at New Chitose Airport in the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, while on a skiing holiday. “Customs officials were alerted to Mr Wadia by sniffer dogs and a search revealed that he had about 25g of what appeared to be cannabis resin in his trouser pocket,” the newspaper reported, quoting Japanese broadcaster NHK.
Wadia — co-owner of IPL cricket team Kings XI along with Preity Zinta and two others — admitted to possession, claiming the drug was for his personal use, the report said, quoting a court official in Sapporo, Japan. Following his arrest, he is reported to have spent a period in detention before being indicted on March 20.
Wadia Group company scrips took a hammering with Bombay Dyeing shares tumbling 17% to Rs 103 on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) at one stage.
Ness won’t go to jail unless he repeats offence
As company stocks took a beating, the Wadia Group – which includes Britannia and GoAir — issued a statement, saying: “Ness Wadia is in India. The judgment is clear. It is a suspended sentence. Hence it will not impact Ness Wadia in the discharge of any of his responsibilities and he will continue to play the role that he has done hitherto, both within the Group and outside.’’ Subsequently, Bombay Dyeing shares recovered somewhat to close at Rs 113, still down 9.8%.
A suspended sentence implies that Wadia will not have to serve time in jail unless he repeats the same offence within five years in Japan.
Under Indian securities law, a person is liable to be disqualified as a director of a company if he has been convicted for any offence by a court and has been sentenced for a minimum six-month jail term. However, former Sebi executive director J N Gupta said, “Court, according to Indian Companies Act, is limited to domestic jurisdiction.” This seems to indicate that since Ness has been convicted by a foreign court, he will not face disqualification as a director in Indian companies.
The Wadia group, which has a market cap of about Rs 82,000 crore, has interests in real estate, plantations, foods, textiles, chemicals, electronics and health care. Ness is MD of Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation and a director of Britannia, Bombay Dyeing and National Peroxide.
Social media was quick to point out that the state of Punjab has been ravaged by drugs, and a co-owner of the Punjab IPL team being sentenced for possessing drugs would send out a very negative message. However, BCCI officials remained tight-lipped about the possibility of any action against Wadia.
MEA sources told TOI they had received no communication from either the Japanese government or the Wadia family about Ness’s arrest or sentencing. “We have no information, because nobody contacted us about the matter,” a senior diplomat said. Normally, they said, the family would indicate that they wanted to seek consular access, following which the government would request the host government. But in this case, the Wadias chose not to approach the Indian authorities, possibly because it was a drug case.
This is not the first time that Ness Wadia has made headlines. He had previously courted trouble when Zinta, his former girlfriend, lodged an FIR against him for allegedly abusing and molesting her at Wankhede Stadium on May 30, 2014, during an IPL match. On October 10, 2018, the Bombay high court quashed the criminal case. Zinta said the dispute between them was “settled” and she wanted to “move on in life’’.