'Interpreter of Maladies' Film Investor Hunts for Millions Gone Missing

Money originally intended for a movie adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize–winning book may or may not be off the east coast of Africa.
Courtesy of Mariner Books

A film adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's Pulitzer Prize–winning short-story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, is now at the center of an international hunt for missing funds. On Tuesday, a New York judge gave the film's director a month to respond to a demand that $2 million be put in an escrow account.

The film was to be made by Amitav Kaul and IOM Film, which aimed to raise $8 million to produce the picture.

In October 2011, Rubin Films signed a subscription agreement and wired $2 million to IOM.

Another investor named Omar Amanat made his own agreement for a $4 million investment in the film, but according to court documents, came to an arrangement with Kaul to have his money deposited into an account at a U.K.-based brokerage firm he owned. The other $2 million was to come through the sale of tax credits, and the entire $8 million was to be used to get a line of credit from City National Bank.

In July 2013, Rubin Films filed a claim in arbitration alleging that the conditions of the subscription agreement hadn't been met. After Rubin wired its $2 million, IOM had difficulty with the bank and kept the money at Amanat's firm. As Kaul had discussion with producers like Wendy Finerman (Forrest Gump) to shepherd and Ben Kingsley to star in Interpreter of Maladies, Rubin began getting antsy about his money kept overseas and the lack of a completion guarantee bond from an insurance company.

Ultimately, this past April, a JAMS arbitrator ruled that Rubin was entitled to recover the $2 million it invested.

But the money had already become a "pea under the shell," according to Rubin court papers, with Kaul having shifted it "out of the United States and then from one country to another and around the globe" with the alleged intent "to frustrate enforcement of the eventual judgment and to steal money they never had a right to keep."

Rubin's lawyer told a New York judge that the U.K.-based brokerage firm collapsed into insolvency. A German company that was to have issued a completion bond provided a clue about where the money might be located. This insurer said that IOM had an account statement from the London branch of a bank incorporated in the Comoros Islands, located off the east coast of Africa. But this bank's lawyer disavowed any knowledge of such an account.

So last week, Rubin went to open court with emergency motions intended to recover the money from Kaul, who testified during earlier proceedings that if he had to return the money, "It would be devastating. We would have to shut down the movie. I mean, our credibility would be totally shot."

"IOM is insolvent and out of business," stated Rubin's petition. "Amitav Kaul is, in his words, trying 'to stay alive.' At the same time, however, Kaul has control over $2 million located in some unknown overseas account. He has demonstrated repeatedly an unrestrained willingness to secretly move Rubin Films’ Account from one institution to another. Most recently he has demonstrated his willingness to lie about Rubin Films’ Account."

The prospects of a Interpreter of Maladies film appear dim. What happens to the $2 million awaits another chapter.

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