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`Big Bull' Harshad Mehta dead

Our Bureau

MUMBAI, Dec. 31

STOCK broker Mr Harshad Mehta died in the early hours of Monday at the Thane civil hospital following a brief heart ailment. Mr Mehta, who was 47, is survived by his wife and two sons.

Mr Mehta was under judicial custody in the Thane prison after a special court remanded him and his two brothers, Mr Ashwin Mehta and Mr Sudhir Mehta, in a fresh case of misappropriation. According to sources, Mr Mehta complained of chest pain late last night and was admitted to the civil hospital where he breathed his last around 12.40 a.m. The body was moved to J.J. Hospital for post-mortem.

Mr Mehta and his brothers were arrested by the CBI on November 9 for allegedly ``misappropriating (in 1992) more than 27 lakh shares of about 90 companies, including Sensex heavyweights such as ACC and Hindalco, through forged share transfer forms.'' The total value of the shares was placed at Rs 250 crore. The two brothers have been granted temporary bail for five days following the death of Mr Harshad Mehta.

Mr Harshad Mehta started his career as an employee of New India Assurance Company but later quit the job to play the stock market. By 1991, Mr Mehta had become the most recognisable and revered icon of the stock market. Considered a financial genius by many, he was nicknamed the Big Bull who single-handedly decided the course the markets would ply.

At the peak of his glory, Mr Mehta lived in a 15,000 sq.ft. house with its private swimming pool and golf patch. His lavish lifestyle and flashy cars were the stuff known only of movie stars.

His ``bull'' run, however, ended in April 1992 when the stock market scam broke out bringing down in its wake several financial entities and causing despair to millions of investors. The man who was singularly credited with the rise of the market was also squarely blamed for the crash.

Mr Mehta's fall from grace was as fast as his meteoric rise. Investigations revealed that his ``unending resources'' were actually siphoned off from the banking system. According to investigators, he had devised an ingenious way of using bank receipts to feed the stock market frenzy.

He was arrested and banished from the stock market with investigators holding him responsible for causing a loss of more than Rs 4,000 crore to various entities.

Mr Mehta again raised a furore in 1995 when he made a public announcement that he had paid Rs 1 crore to the then Congress President and Prime Minister, Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao, as donation to the party for getting him ``off the hook.''

The decade-long tug of war with the law that started in 1992 was continuing when Mr Mehta died. He had altogether 28 cases registered against him. The trial of all except one, are still continuing in various courts in the country. Market watchdog, Securities and Exchange Board of India, had recently banned him for life from stock market-related activities.

Mr Mehta perhaps had as many admirers as critics. If he was loathed by some, he was revered by many. But almost all of them admit that he caused a ``change'' in the Indian stock market, permanently.

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