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Indian billionaire a murder target?

ANIL Ambani does not wait in traffic.

The billionaire industrialist often commutes by helicopter, soaring above the traffic clogging his sprawling hometown of Mumbai, India.

But Ambani's high-flying life could have ended last week - a complaint filed with police said pebbles and gravel were found in the chopper's engine, debris that could have caused the craft to crash.

The case took a bizarre twist this week: the technician who discovered the suspected sabotage turned up dead. Bharat Borge's body was discovered on suburban Mumbai railway tracks after he was apparently hit by a train - a death police are calling suicide but Borge's family believes was murder.

The intrigue is only the latest chapter in the Ambani saga, a multi-generational tale that began with an ambitious patriarch and includes warring brothers, Bollywood starlets, and egos that match their multibillion dollar fortunes.

The latest developments have gripped the country, with newspapers splashing the story across their front pages and TV news channels giving repeated updates.

Whoever placed the pebbles in the engine understood helicopters, senior pilot R.N. Joshi of Reliance Transport & Travels - one of Anil Ambani's companies - said in the police complaint. The chopper likely would have been able to take off, he said, but the debris would have entered the gear box and cut the power, bringing down the aircraft.

"Some persons, possible business rivals, were attempting to take away the life of Anil Ambani," said Joshi.

The alleged sabotage would not have been possible "without active involvement" of someone at the company that maintained the helicopter, he said.

Mumbai's chief police investigator, Rakesh Maria, would only say an investigation was under way.

Ambani's father, Dhirubhai Ambani, was one of India's first great capitalists, a South Asian Horatio Alger hero who inspired generations of entrepreneurs. He launched the Reliance empire trading spices and textiles before going public in 1977 in one of India's first major public offerings.

When he died 25 years later, the Reliance conglomerate was India's largest private sector company with interests in petrochemicals, plastics, oil refineries, and more.

His two sons, Anil and Mukesh Ambani, inherited the sprawling company. They quickly began feuding.

Their mother divided the conglomerate between them, with Mukesh, the older brother, inheriting petrochemical, oil, and refining interests and Anil receiving power generation, telecommunication and financial services.

The brothers have expanded their respective dominions, and remain locked in a rivalry that has them jockeying for position on Forbes' list of the world's richest people.

Mukesh Ambani, who is worth US$19.5 billion, is at seventh place while Anil, worth US$10.1 billion, is at 34th, according to Forbes.

Although the sibling rivalry has long been heated, no one has ever accused the brothers of contemplating fratricide. Mukesh Ambani's name has not been mentioned as a possible suspect in the helicopter sabotage.


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