By Prarthana Mitra
In January this year, diamond jewellery mogul Nirav Modi fled the country. A month later, he was accused, along with his uncle Mehul Choksi, of perpetrating a fraud of Rs 13000 crore ($1.8 billion) by state-owned Punjab National Bank.
The Central Bureau of Investigation this month sought Interpol’s help to locate him, even as Modi reportedly denied the charges, maintaining that his companies owed far less.
Who is Nirav Modi?
Absconding jeweller Modi is the main accused in the massive scam that shook up the country’s economy and continues to shock people with every new development.
The Nirav Modi Global Diamond Jewellery House started in 2010, now boasts of 14 stores around the world Mumbai, Hong Kong, London, Macau and New York. Regularly featured on the world’s leading financial and fashion magazines, life for the 47-year-old billionaire has been anything but glamorous or peaceful.
Ever since his first appearance on the Forbes billionaire list, Modi has been under the radar of law enforcement agencies, including the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the tax department for alleged illegal transactions and frauds, for siphoning and laundering money through Dubai shell accounts, personal loans and gifts. Modi was able to steer clear of trouble until recently, when the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) accused him of diverting imported, duty-free, cut and polished gemstones to the domestic market, thus violating import-export norms.
What are the developments so far?
Modi stands at the centre of the massive scam that has shaken Indian taxpayers, the finance ministry and law enforcement agencies considerably.
The CBI approached the Interpol on June 11 to issue a Red Corner Notice (RCN) against Modi after the charge sheet was filed. The move came after the email account of CBI Joint Director Rajiv Singh, who headed the banking fraud division and was responsible for the probe, was used to send out bulk emails. In May, Singh’s official email account was blocked following suspicious activity registered from it, which led investigative agencies to launch a probe into the possible leak of sensitive information regarding the case.
Singh’s division was responsible for probing the Rs 13,000 crore bank fraud case against Modi, but following these revelations, CERT of the Ministry of Information Technology blocked his account.
Where is Modi now and how likely are we to try him at an Indian court?
On June 12, Nirav Modi reportedly travelled from London to Brussels using an Indian passport via rail rather than air travel in order to avoid authorities. This points towards the existence of multiple passports since his official passport had been revoked on February 24.
However, experts claim that the RCN, if it comes, will be too late as Modi is likely to have used the window before the issue of the charge sheet to make the transit. Reports from other sources have also alleged that Modi has sought an ILR (Indefinite Leave to Remain) in the United Kingdom, which allows fellow fugitive Vijay Mallya to enjoy asylum despite facing criminal charges.
Nonetheless, Indian authorities have informed Belgian banks and financial institutions about the investigation in hopes of blocking his financial transactions. These preventive measures are hardly punitive and have hardly impacted Modi’s business over the last six months when he carried out operations through companies allegedly floated by his father and associates.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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