Deepak Raheja and Shyamsunder Agarwal stand accused of owing 10 million RMB ($1.58 million) to Chinese traders after the Yemeni owner of their trading firm fled abroad leaving unpaid dues.
The two traders were held hostage in Yiwu for over two weeks in December by Chinese suppliers. They were subsequently allowed to leave for Shanghai following a court hearing, and were being looked after by the Indian Consulate in the city while awaiting the verdict.
The Consulate had so far spent around 45,000 RMB ($7,142) on their hotel bills and living expenses, but had to stop payments as they did not have the approval from New Delhi for further funds, an official said.
“We were thrown out of the hotel because we could not pay the bills, and had to spend Tuesday night sleeping on the street,” Raheja said in a telephone interview.
The two traders have written to the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi seeking financial assistance of $128 a day until the verdict is announced.
While thanking the Consulate for its support over the past weeks, Raheja said he is in a “dire” financial situation after paying 900,000 RMB ($143,000) out of his own personal savings to suppliers while he was being held captive. Both traders do not have access to any other funds, he said.
The traders have also asked to be allowed to return to India, though there is little likelihood of that until the case is resolved. Chinese prosecutors and dozens of suppliers hold them accountable for a vast sum of money, while court authorities are in possession of their passports.
Hearings on the case began on March 1 at an Intermediate court in Jinhua, near Shanghai. Suppliers accused the two Indian traders of being liable for the dues, and have produced documents and receipts, with the traders' signatures, to prove their case.
Raheja is arguing that the signatures were made under duress. He said he was only an employee in the firm, which he claimed was owned by a Yemeni national who has absconded. He has also filed a case against the suppliers for kidnapping and torture, and demanded the return of his money.
Indian officials have asked Chinese authorities to speed up investigations and announce a verdict soon to resolve the matter. External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna raised the issue with his counterpart Yang Jiechi during a visit here last month, when he also met the two traders. “It has already been three weeks since the hearing,” an official said. “This situation cannot go on forever.”