Mohandas Gandhi’s great-granddaughter, 56-year-old Ashish Lata Ramgobin who lives in South Africa was recently sentenced to seven years in prison in a fraud and forgery case. A Durban court found her guilty of scamming a local businessman SR Maharaj of 6.2 million Rand (nearly 3.4 crore rupees).
The case pertains to an incident in 2015 where Lata approached Maharaj and convinced him that she had three containers of linen coming in from Bharat. She asked for 62 lakh local currency to clear import and Customs duties and release the goods at the harbor. Maharaj fell for her promise of a share in ‘profits’.
When the trial in the case began in 2015, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said that Lata allegedly provided forged invoices and documents to influence her investors. At that time, Lata Ramgobin was released on a bail of 50,000 Rand. This time around she was refused appeal in both the conviction and the sentence by the Durban commercial crimes court and jailed.
Maharaj runs a company called the New Africa Alliance Footwear Distributors that imports, manufactures, and sells clothing, linen, and footwear. His company also provides finance to other companies on a profit-sharing basis. Lata had told Maharaj that she had imported linen for the South African hospital group NetCare.
She showed Maharaj a signed purchase order for the goods and took the money. Later that month she sent him the NetCare invoice her company had raised and a delivery note mentioning delivery of the goods. Then she sent him a confirmation from NetCare’s bank account that payment had been made. All of them were fake.
Embarrassingly, the fact that Lata had good family credentials and the NetCare documents she provided, prompted Maharaj to enter into a written agreement with Lata for the loan. Later on, when he came to know that the documents were forged and that there was no such agreement between Lata and NetCare, he pressed criminal charges against her.
Lata is the founder and executive director of the Participative Development Initiative, an NGO that preached Non-Violence. She called herself “an activist with a focus on environmental, societal and political interests.” Many of Gandhi’s other descendants call themselves ‘human rights activists’ including Lata’s cousins Kirti Menon, the late Satish Dhupelia, and Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie. Lata’s mother Ela Gandhi was another and has received national honors from both Bharat and South Africa.
Many are now condemning Lata for spoiling Gandhi’s ‘legacy’. This incident should also come as a wake-up call for Bharat where some ‘national’ leaders have affixed the Gandhi surname to sponge off his aura. They have used this surname to cheat the people of Bharat for many years. In fact, Gandhi’s own chequered past is now coming under increasing scrutiny.