Billionaire jeweler denies involvement in huge Indian bank fraud: lawyer

Reported one of India's largest bank fraud,the case has stunned financial markets

Reuters February 20, 2018
Security guards stand inside a Nirav Modi showroom during a raid by the Enforcement Directorate, a government agency that fights financial crime, in New Delhi, India, February 15, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

Indian billionaire jeweler Nirav Modi, one of the prime accused in the country’s largest ever bank fraud, denies allegations leveled against him by Punjab National Bank (PNB), his lawyer said on Tuesday.

“There is nothing, there is nothing in it,” Vijay Aggarwal, a lawyer representing Modi, told Reuters, referring to the police complaint filed by PNB that alleges that companies linked to Modi and one of his relatives received credit worth nearly $1.8 billion between 2011 and 2017 using false guarantees supplied by two bank officials.

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Aggarwal, speaking by telephone, declined to comment on where Modi was. Indian officials are on the lookout for Modi and his family, who police say left India in January prior to the case being filed.

“Everything is documented,” Aggarwal said of Modi’s dealings with PNB, adding that the state-owned bank had regularly levied fees on its dealings with the jeweler’s firms.

Asked about his legal strategy, Aggarwal said: “Until there is no chargesheet, there is no strategy. When there is a chargesheet, there will be a strategy.”

According to a police complaint by PNB, the two officials at a Mumbai branch of the bank steered fraudulent loans to companies linked to Modi and entities tied to jewelry retailer Gitanjali Gems, which is led by Modi’s uncle, Mehul Choksi.

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“They are covering themselves up,” Aggarwal said of the complaint. “They want to avoid liability ... that is why they are cooking up this story.”

Choksi, who has also left the country, has not commented. Gitanjali, in a stock exchange filing, has denied Choksi’s involvement in the alleged fraud.

Five bank officials, including the two at the Mumbai branch, have been arrested.

The fraud case has stunned financial markets and it sent PNB shares tumbling for a fifth straight trading day on Tuesday.

Shares in PNB, which has shed nearly a third of its market value since disclosing the fraud, were down 3.5 percent in early trading after rating agency Fitch placed the bank on negative watch. Later, Moody’s also placed the bank’s ratings under review for a downgrade.

Separately, in a letter to PNB officials, Modi stated that his companies owe the bank under Rs50 billion ($775.25 million), much lower than the amount alleged by the bank. He also said PNB has jeopardised its chances of recovering the sums owed by going public with its allegations.

“The erroneously cited liability resulted in a media frenzy which led to immediate search and seizure of operations, and which in turn resulted in Firestar International and Firestar Diamond International effectively ceasing to be going-concerns,” he wrote in a letter seen by Reuters. “This thereby jeopardised our ability to discharge the dues of the group to the banks.”

Both companies are controlled by Modi. The fraud allegedly involves at least three firms controlled by Modi and others by Choksi.


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