US Indian charged with fiancee murder

Authorities in the United States have filed a murder charge against Indian businessman Pragnesh Desai for the death of his American fiancee Leona Swiderski and are seeking his extradition from India, PTI reports from New York.

Desai, a resident of Palisades Park in New Jersey, is charged with arranging to get Swiderski, an aspiring model, killed during a trip to Mumbai to collect insurance worth $1 million. The murder charge against Desai, owner of several Manhattan restaurants and 7-Eleven stores in New Jersey, come nine months after an Indian trial judge acquitted him in the murder of Swiderski in February 2003.

However, he remains in jail in Mumbai as US authorities were seeking his extradition on mail fraud charges. But on Thursday, the authorities filed a murder charge against him, saying they had uncovered new evidence during the visit of FBI agents to India.

The charge announced on Thursday accuses Desai of intentionally causing his fiancee to travel in foreign commerce with the purpose of causing her death.

Desai could be tried on the murder charge as Swiderski is an American citizen. He is alleged to have taken out two life insurance policies worth one million dollars on his fiancee, making himself beneficiary shortly before they went on a trip to India last year. Desai faces US fraud charges in connection with those policies.

FBI spokesman Steven Kodak declined to elaborate on the new evidence.

Rosemarie Arnold, a Fort Lee lawyer representing Swiderski's family, was quoted as saying, "Although the Indian police did an excellent job in the investigation, it is clear that the Indian justice system failed my client miserably."

The US government also has grounds to seek extradition on murder charges because part of the crime allegedly occurred in New Jersey: Desai lured Swiderski out of the United States with the intent of killing her abroad, Kodak said.

It is alleged that Desai had hired killers to murder Swiderski.

She was strangled and her body was found outside Mumbai after Desai had lodged a missing person report with the police.

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Source: Deccan Herald