Mumbai: Restaurant owner accuses MLA Nitesh Rane of extortion, harassment

Owner of swanky lounge says he was forced to give 50% share to frontman and pay MLA protection money

Hotel Estella at Juhu Tara Road in Santacruz. Pics/Sneha Kharabe
Hotel Estella at Juhu Tara Road in Santacruz. Pics/Sneha Kharabe

Eminent politician Narayan Rane's son and MLA, Nitesh Rane, has been accused of harassing and extorting money from a local restaurateur.

Hitesh Keswani, who runs a swanky lounge restaurant - Estella - in Nichani Kutir on Juhu Tara Road with partner Karan Shah, filed an FIR at Santacruz police station yesterday against Nitesh and two others, alleging that the MLA had forcefully acquired a 50 per cent share in his establishment and subsequently demanded Rs 10 lakh a month as protection money.

Hotel owners Nikhil Mehrani and Hitesh Keswani
Hotel owners Nikhil Mehrani and Hitesh Keswani

Frontman given a share
Keswani claimed that their problems with Rane Jr began last October, when he and his partner took over the prime property to launch an Australian fine dining restaurant. An anonymous caller allegedly told Keswani then to present himself before Nitesh. During subsequent meetings, Nitesh, who was initially curious about their deal with the landlord, allegedly threatened Keswani and Shah that he wouldn't allow them to run their business if one of his men wasn't allowed to join as a 50 per cent partner.

"Left with no choice - the clock to our scheduled opening in December was ticking - we succumbed to the threats. A deal was struck, wherein Nitesh's frontman paid us R1.5 crore. That was less than half our total budget," alleged Keswani. But, the frontman allegedly got cold feet about his investment and was paid back his money in full.

Things blow up
The restaurateurs' worries, however, were far from over. "In January this year, we received demands of R10 lakh per month, which we initially paid under pressure to frontmen and companies suggested to us," said Keswani.

Things came to a head this week after Nitesh allegedly demanded an inspection of the restaurant's accounts and sent two of his men on Thursday evening to threaten the staff. When the goons barged into the restaurant and created a ruckus, several customers left, some halfway through their meals. The police arrested the two men - Monin Sheikh from DN Nagar and Mohamed Ilyas Ansari, a resident of Four Bungalows.

Having had enough of the alleged extortion, Keswani lodged an FIR yesterday under sections 384 (extortion), 452 (house-trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint), 504 (intentional insult with the intent to provoke breach of peace) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the IPC.

Shantanu Pawar, senior inspector of Santacruz police station, said Sheikh and Ansari have been remanded in police custody till May 23. He assured a thorough investigation of the case.

The other side
Nitesh Rane brushed the issue off as a "misunderstanding between friends". "Hitesh Keswani an old friend and old business associate. We had some misunderstanding, which has now been sorted out. He will withdraw his police complaint soon and we will issue a joint statement to the press," he said.

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