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Ash gets a clean chit from Customs
Customs authorities have given a clean chit to the gorgeous Aishwarya Rai "as of now" after questioning her for over two and half hours during which she disowned a packet in her name containing Euro 23,000 (around Rs 13 lakhs).
The sender of the parcel has been identified as one Avineshwar who is a Dutch national of Indian origin, Commissioner of Customs (Import) A K Prasad told reporters in Mumbai on Monday.
"He is a Dutch citizen in his thirties and we are in the process of getting more information about him," he added.
Prasad said the help of the Indian Embassy in the Netherlands and the Ministry of External Affairs will be sought for the probe.
During her over two-and-half hour questioning at the Customs Office at Mumbai International Airport where she appeared after taking a break from a film shoot in Jaipur, Ash denied she knew its sender either personally or professionally.
Ash had to reply in writing a total of 60 questions during the interrogation, Prasad said adding that the actress was "very tense" and had to be calmed after which she was very cooperative.
During the questioning, Prasad said, Ash did not recognise any of the items that were sent in the parcel by the man who has also sent a photocopy of his Dutch passport along with the parcel.
"She has told the officials that she does not know this person either professionally or personally," the actress' lawyer Girish Kulkarni, who was also present during the questioning, he said.
In a statement to the officials, Ash said she did not have to recover any dues from any such person who has sent the packet, her lawyer Girish Kulkarni said.
Without disclosing Avineshwar's full name, Prasad said a case has been registered under the Customs Act against him for not declaring goods sent by parcel and the punishment for the offence ranges from penalty to three years imprisonment, Prasad said.
According to the customs, the parcel was addressed to the residence of the actress which was not in use for the last four years and investigations are in progress if the address was being "used" by someone else.
"We have had cases earlier where such addresses have been used in connivance with Department of Posts officials and goods collected," said Prasad.
"We fear that the name of a celebrity was being used to get a quick delivery of the articles without much of checking from our side," he said.
The parcel also contains two mobile phones, a CD-ROM with some information about football's governing body FIFA in it and some photographs of Avineshwar.
"He is a maniac...it is difficult to know the exact purpose for it. But we will solve the case in a maximum of six months time," Prasad said.
The Customs will call Ash for questioning again if it gets "anything contrary" to her statement given today, Prasad said.
He said help of other agencies like the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence or Enforcement Directorate will be taken only if necessary.
Prasad said Avineshwar's deportation was "unlikely" as the offence is "too small".
"We may just penalise him but it is definitely a matter of concern as anybody can send a packet full of cash to a celebrity's address and create a furore," he said.
The Customs Commissioner declined to comment when asked if Avineshwar is an event manager who was associated with the IIFA awards held in The Netherlands in 2005.
"But Aishwarya has come clear about the IIFA angle in her questioning saying that she had performed at the show and also won many laurels...but does not remember meeting this man," Prasad said.
The parcel, sent from Rotterdam in the Netherlands and marked to the actress, arrived at the Foreign Post Office in Mumbai in September-end. Besides the currency, it also contained a top-brand shirt, a pair of binoculars, a DVD player and other electronic items.
"There were two mobile phones in the parcel out of which once was having a SIM card. The card was not having anything related to the case and only 2-3 Indian numbers were stored in it," Prasad said.
A total of four officials from the Customs were present during the questioning of Ash and so were her mother and lawyer, Prasad added.
"We explained that we were questioning her as Rs 14 lakhs is not a small amount and she was fine with it," he said.
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