The Supreme Court of California has ruled in favour of Pakistani classical singer Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and his former international promoter and art agent Salman Ahmed. The suit was awarded against a California-based show promoter in a case worth $2.2 million with charges including defamation, economic duress and extortion.
California Superior Court judge Carrie A. Zepeda has ruled that Salman Ahmed acted honestly with the show promoter and plaintiff Bikramjeet Singh, whose company, Bollywood Events LLC, had contracted Ahmed for a show through Karl Kalra’s Jeevan Sathi LLC. The show was held on October 5, 2019, in St Jose, California and featured Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.
Court documents available with The Friday Times show that Bikramjeet Singh and his company “Bollywood” claimed to have been victims of alleged economic duress, common counts, unfair business practises, and severe defamation by Salman Ahmed and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and extorted approximately $30,000 from him.
The case was trialled before the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Carla, where Salman Ahmed represented himself and Rahat. The singer did not appear personally before the court. Singh's legal team appeared on his behalf. After spending over $50,000 on lawyers, Salman decided represent himself in the case.
The court was told that Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan was scheduled to perform at a concert in San Jose, California, in October 2019. The court heard that Salman sold the show to Kalra's Jeevan Sathi LLC, who further sold it to Singh with an agreement to promote a concert for $250,000. Singh admitted to the court that before the concert, he paid just $150,000 to Kalra. However, on the evening of the concert, per their agreement, Singh still had to pay $100,00 to Kalra.
Singh claimed in court that Salman had agreed to lower Rahat's fees for the performance to $150,000. Hence, Singh was only obligated to pay Kalra $150,000 - which he had already done. But on the evening of the concert, the contract between Singh and Kalra remained unchanged, and Singh still owed $100,000 to Kalra.
With the dispute lingering, it delayed the show, causing unrest among patrons who had bought tickets. Rahat, however, finally took to the stage after a two-hour delay when $30,000 of the outstanding payment of $100,000 was released to Ahmed on Kalra's behalf. As Rahat took up his position on the stage, Ahmed relayed to the restless crowd that the concert faced delays because the promoter had not paid the artist.
Bikramjeet Singh argued in court that he was not obligated to pay the $30,000 nor the additional $100,000 because Ahmed had agreed to reduce Rahat's concert fee. Hence, the $30,000 paid to Rahat on the night of the concert was allegedly extorted from him, while Ahmed's statement to the crowd tarnished his reputation.
Ahmed, however, denied all allegations and argued that he did not have any ability to modify the contract between Singh and Kalra.
Meanwhile, Kalra threatened Ahmed and Rahat with a lawsuit if the latter performed before he was paid in full by Singh; Kalra later instructed Ahmed to accept the $30,000 from Singh and cleared Rahat to perform. Ahmed gave the money to Kalra and did not retain any part of it. But Ahmed did tell the public the reason for the delay to protect his and Rahat's global reputation.
The judge ruled that Singh never entered into a contract directly with Ahmed or Rahat. The contract was with Kalra's Jeevan Sathi LLC, and that Singh was bound to honour the terms of that contract. The court further recognised that Ahmed did not have the ability to modify the contract. Rather, it observed that it was Singh who had breached the contract when he failed to pay the full $250,000 to Kalra before the concert was scheduled to begin. On the day of the concert, per their contract, the court ruled that Singh owed $100,000 to Kalra.
The judge found that Ahmed did tell thousands of Rahat fans a truthful statement that the artist was appearing late because he was not paid the full amount on time. At the same time, the court noted that Ahmed did not mention Singh nor his company, “Bollywood”, and therefore did not defame Singh.
The court found Ahmed to be a credible witness whose account before the judge was factual and based on truth. The court noted that Ahmed and Rahat relied on material facts of the case. The court concluded that neither Ahmed nor Rahat had wrongfully demanded money from Singh or his company, Bollywood Events LLC.
The court absolved Ahmed and Rahat of extortion allegations levelled by Singh and instead declared that both were innocent hostages due to Singh's breach.
The court found that Singh was not a credible witness and rejected all of his claims. Testimonies from half a dozen witnesses whom Singh presented in court were rejected. Writing a judgement in favour of Salman Ahmed and Rahat, the judge concluded that Singh did not prove any of his causes of action against Ahmed or Rahat and therefore, Singh and Bollywood shall take nothing by way of the lawsuit."
Reacting to the verdict, Ahmed, a globally renowned promoter with over three decades in the entertainment industry, said: “I am thankful that we have been vindicated by the California court. The claim was a conspiracy against Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. This was aimed at causing him damages of over $2.2 million and a reputational loss."
Ahmed added that he fought the case with full knowledge and belief that he had to win this case to defeat the conspiracy against Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.
"Truth prevailed before the court, and we won on each and every point of the claim. Our credibility was further strengthened. I decided to fight the case because I knew the truth and facts were on our side.”
Ahmed has been associated with the entertainment industry for a long time and has worked to orchestrate events such as The Nobel Peace Prize Concert - where Rahat has also performed in the past, The Buckingham Palace, the United Nations General Assembly, the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Oxford University Music Faculty, Dubai Expo 2020 and hundreds of concerts globally. He has worked with Rahat Fateh Ali for over a decade.