MJ Akbar: I did not offer drinks to Priya Ramani, never met her in hotel

Published: May 21, 2019, 09:29 IST | mid-day online desk |

Priya Ramani had tweeted about Akbar allegedly behaving in an objectionable way in the hotel room

Ex-Union minister MJ Akbar stated to a Delhi court on Monday that he did not ask scribe Priya Ramani, who has accused him of sexual misconduct in #MeToo campaign, to meet him in his hotel room back in 1994. This is in regards to her alleged interview to join a newspaper of which he was the editor.

MJ Akbar, who had resigned as minister on October 17, 2018, following the allegations levelled during the campaign, vehemently objected to the questions of Ramani's counsel about other women scribes who had also accused him of sexual misconduct. The scribe-turned BJP politician was cross-examined by senior advocate Rebecca John, counsel for Ramani, before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal, in connection with his private criminal defamation complaint against Ramani.

"It is incorrect to suggest that I called Priya Ramani to come to my room. It is wrong to suggest that she was hesitant or that I insisted... I do not know whether it was the first job interview by Priya Ramani after her graduation. "I am not sure whether Priya Ramani was offered a job in the Asian Age newspaper in January 1994 in Delhi Office. As it is a 25 years old matter and to the best of my knowledge, she was working in Bombay office," Akbar stated.

Priya Ramani had tweeted about Akbar allegedly behaving in an objectionable way in the hotel room. Her counsel also put forth questions pertaining to other women scribes and their allegations against MJ Akbar. The queries were strongly protested by senior advocate Geeta Luthra, representing the former minister and she said that the questions were "irrelevant" as they were not related to the current case. "These are all part of my (Ramani's) defence as it shows his (Akbar's) behaviour," Ramani's counsel replied which led to a heated exchange between the two women senior lawyers of their respective parties.

The magistrate allowed Priya Ramani's lawyer to keep asking questions to Akbar and also agreed to record the objections of Akbar with regard to such queries. During the cross-examination, questions were put to him involving other women journalists, including Ghazala Wahab, Sonali Khullar Shroff, Kadambari M Wade, Majlie de Puy Kamp and Harinder Baweja, who had accused Akbar of sexual misconduct. Akbar confirmed that he had refuted the allegations levelled by Wahab in an article.

In response to another query, Akbar said he could not recall whether Wade was working with him as it was a 20-year-old matter. Regarding allegations made by Kamp, he said, "there was absolutely no question of harassment of the lady Kamp. I recall there might have been a mention of some misunderstanding which was accepted". Akbar said he did not recall whether Shroff worked with him and that he had not read any tweet written by her in regards to the sexual harassment. The cross-examination of Akbar by Ramani's counsel remained inconclusive and would resume on on July 6.

Akbar, who resigned as Union minister on October 17 last year, filed a private criminal defamation complaint against Ramani after his name cropped up on social media as the #MeToo campaign raged on in India. Akbar was accused of sexual misconduct by Priya Ramani around 20 years ago when he was working as a journalist. Akbar had earlier told the court that the allegations made in the article in Vogue and the subsequent tweets were defamatory on the face of it as the complainant had deposed them to be false and imaginary. He had told the court in his statement that an "immediate damage" has been caused to him due to the scurrilous, concocted and false allegations of sexual misconduct.

Multiple women have come out with cases of alleged sexual harassment against him while he was working as a journalist. Akbar has termed the allegations "false, fabricated and deeply distressing" and said he was taking appropriate legal action against them.

With inputs from PTI

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