Fugitive diamond merchant Mehul Choksi's plea to pre-screen the Netflix documentary "Bad Boy Billionaires" on corruption by India's tycoons has been dismissed by the Delhi High Court. Mr Choksi can, however, file a civil suit if he still wants to pursue the matter, Justice Navin Chawla said after a two-hour hearing today.
"In my opinion, a writ petition for enforcement of a private is not maintainable. The appropriate remedy would be civil suit as the alleged infringement is of a private right. The petition is dismissed. The petitioner is at liberty to raise the issue in a private civil suit," Justice Chawla said.
The documentary is scheduled to be released in India on September 2. Netflix's lawyers said Mr Choksi's plea for a pre-screening was "wholly misconceived" and "mischievous".
Along with his nephew Nirav Modi, Mr Choksi is accused of cheating Punjab National Bank of up to Rs 13,500 crore. Both fled India before the case blew up and have never returned.
The Netflix promo for the film says, "This investigative docuseries explores the greed, fraud and corruption that built up - and ultimately brought down - India's most infamous tycoons".
Neeraj Kishan Kaul and Dayan Krishnan, representing Netflix, said Mr Choksi is a "declared absconder and fugitive" and allowing pre-screening to him will be "freezing of free speech".
Mr Choksi's lawyer Vijay Aggarwal said his client has a right to fair trial, which should not be prejudiced with the release of the documentary, and objected to Netflix's lawyer calling Mr Choksi a fugitive.
"I am not a fugitive. There is a stay order operating in my favour by the Bombay High Court. They have called me a fugitive 100 times in this hearing and they have misinformed the court. I urge the court to preview the series and protect me (Mr Choksi)," Mr Aggarwal said on behalf of his client.
He threatened that Netflix, an American company, has to respect Indian laws and the Constitution or it could be banned like Chinese apps.
Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma and the centre's counsel Ajay Digpaul, representing the Electronics and Information Technology Ministry, said there is no statutory mandate to regulate or review over the top (OTT) content.
Giving a brief about the series, Netflix's lawyers said it includes a story about a diamond tycoon who travelled to London with his uncle, after which the Punjab National Bank scam broke out. The lawyer said only one or two interviews of Mr Choksi to the media are in the series and just two minutes are devoted to him.
There is no reference to any trial going on about Mr Choksi or him being related to any case allegedly involving Nirav Modi, the Netflix lawyer said. "If pre-screening is allowed, it will be a form of censorship. Free speech is not only what a journalist writes, it is also the right of a citizen to know what is happening," he said.
With inputs from PTI