Where's my money, theo?

May 04, 2012, 07:53 IST | Hemal Ashar

Sydney-based businessman accuses Dadar sports bookstore owner of duping him of money meant for well-known cricket charity

Marine Sports, is a sports bookshop at Gokhale Road (North), near Portuguese Church, next to Bank of India in Dadar. It is old-style, old world kind of place. It is unique simply because it is one of the only bookstores of its kind in Mumbai, selling only sports books. It is an institution in its own right, a more than 50-year-old oasis for sports lovers who have often lost themselves in the pages of books there.

You live and learn:  Darshak Mehta at his Juhu home, when he was in the city earlier Pic/Rane Ashish

Marine Sports bookstore owner, Theo Braganza is instantly recognisable in the city’s local sporting circles, especially in the cricketing fraternity, having built trust because of his many years at the store. That faith, though, has eroded completely for Darshak Mehta, a Mumbai businessman who is currently based in Sydney, who says Theo Braganza owes him Rs 27,000 for the past three years and has been fobbing him off with one excuse or another. To compound the shame, Darshak says, “This was money belonging to a charity, which Braganza has kept promising to return but has not done so for more than 36 months.” Despite repeated attempts, Theo Braganza did not respond to calls or email questions for comment on the same.

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Leg Before Wicket?
In 2006, Darshak along with the late cricket columnist Peter Roebuck, cricket writer Mike Coward and Sydney barrister Peter Strain co-founded a charity called The LBW Trust. The catchy cricketing acronym, in this case, stands for, ‘Learning for a Better World’ (LBW). The LBW Trust’s primary aim is to provide tertiary education to disadvantaged youth in developing, cricket playing countries. Tertiary education is post-secondary school education, and is the educational level following the completion of school. The students range from 17 to 26 years and The LBW Trust funds their education raising money through several cricket-related events, like talks by cricketing celebrities. They also raise money auctioning cricket memorabilia donated by sports stars.

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It was in this connection that Darshak contacted Theo over three years ago, thinking that the trust has had several auctions of memorabilia in Australia, but why not exploit the potential in India, a cricket crazy country? Darshak explains, “We had a deal in which Theo agreed to auction cricketing memorabilia online for The LBW Trust. He was very enthusiastic about it. We corresponded about commission, prices terms etc and everything was mutually agreed. Theo conducted the auction of The LBW Trust’s merchandise e.g. a bat autographed by the Indian cricket team and an India training shirt signed by M S Dhoni. He sold the memorabilia to two persons, A Bhavnani and one A Gadkari, respectively. He collected the full amount from these two gentlemen but has not even passed on half of that! He still owes me around Rs 27,000, it has been three years.”

Shamelessly defaulting: Theo Braganza at his store

Wild Goose Chase
An exasperated Darshak says, from his Juhu home while on holiday in Mumbai recently, “I have been asking Theo for the money for nearly three years now. I communicate mostly by email, as I am not in India, but have also telephoned him several times from Sydney. I also go and meet Theo at his store, at least twice a year, when I am here in Mumbai. I did so this time (in April) and once again, like every time, Theo was very conciliatory, very amicable and looked suitably sheepish, in fact. But he has no intention of paying, he just gives excuses and new dates and keeps shamelessly defaulting. He now tells me he will pay me by this month, May 2012, but, frankly, I am fed up. He has reneged on ALL his previous promises and I do not believe him anymore. We may have to write off the money. I paid it to The LBW Trust from my own pocket, expecting Theo to come good, but he has duped me.”

Shutters down: The Marine Sports bookstore stands locked and a notice hangs in front of the door   

A Smooth Operator
When Darshak was asked why he had not filed a police complaint he showed a copy of a legal notice he had decided to send Theo. Darshak says, “A lawyer friend had drafted it pro bono and I was going to serve it about six months ago. Then, my friend who prepared it, passed away suddenly, so the notice got sidelined. This is not a huge amount, I have already paid it to the charity.” Darshak, obviously disgusted with Theo’s attitude, adds that, “Theo has abused the trust I reposed in him. In fact, people have now wised up to him.

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If he does not have the money to pay, he should immediately shut down his business. In the end, I feel so gullible and naïve -- like a complete fool. This man is obviously a very smooth operator.” The businessman then laughed a little bitterly admitting, “I also know that with this interview, I may seriously jeopardise my chances of getting the money back.” Though Darshak thought that exposing Theo could compromise his very slim chances of getting his money back, he also felt compelled to speak out, simply to save other people from getting conned by Theo. Darshak even signed off on a warning note, saying assertively, “People should be very wary or avoid financial dealings with him.”

What is LBW Trust?
The LBW trust is a cricket charity with its headquarters in Australia. It was founded in 2006, and the full name stands for Learning for a Better World. The Trust provides post-school education to disadvantaged youth in cricket playing countries around the world. The Trust has 150 students in India and has tied up with several Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in other developing countries, through which it functions.

It has events with speakers like Ian Chappell, Adam Gilchrist, Steve Waugh, etc who The Trust invite for an after-dinner speaking engagement. The game’s many aficionados attend and support these functions. LBW also raises money by auctioning donated cricket memorabilia. Rahul Dravid is one of their 12 ‘patrons’, says LBW co-founder Darshak Mehta. Other famous cricketing names associated with the charity are Malcolm Speed, Greg Chappell and Adam Gilchrist.

Radar on Uganda
The LBW Trust website says in its news section: The LBW Trust Board resolved last month to grant 10 new scholarships to students in the village of Namwendwa, Uganda.We are doing this in conjunction with One Village, an NGO that works in developing communities to help them achieve their long-term goals. One Village coordinator Nikki Lovell, who addressed the LBW Trust Annual Dinner earlier in the year, spoke about the delight the news would bring to the prospective students and the One Village committee in Uganda. The positions will be 6 scholarships in a two-year teaching program and 4 two-year technical trade scholarships starting early 2012, with 6 girls and 4 boys to be selected. This brings to 39, the number of students that the LBW Trust is supporting through One Village in Uganda.

Ire and emails
Excerpts from email correspondence that has been exchanged between Darshak Mehta and Theo Braganza.
On Fri, Feb 10, 2012 at 5:15 PM, Darshak Mehta <darshak@bigpond.net.au>
Any thought of returning my money, Theo?
On Sat, Feb 11, 2012 at 3:21 AM, Darshak Mehta <darshak@bigpond.net.au>
If you have been so ill financially, how do you manage to keep your shop going for 4 years?
From: marine sports [mailto:themarinesports@gmail.com
Sent: Sunday, 12 February 2012 2:53 AM=20
To: Darshak Mehta
Subject: Re: NEW IN SPORTS
Would you like to see Marine Sports closed?
On Mon, Feb 13, 2012 at 12:55 PM, Darshak Mehta <darshak@bigpond.net.au>
Well, if you cannot pay your debts, YES, you should close the shop down. You cannot run a viable business by defaulting on your financial commitments & taking for granted other people's money.
The money you owe belongs to a Charity and you have managed to deprive one student of a University education.
There are ethics involved too in keeping money someone has paid for an item they bought, the role of a honest middle-man is not to hang on to that money as his working capital.
The money is not yours, never was and instead of returning it, you are using it to fund your business, for the past four years.

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