File Photo: Punjab National Bank. Photograph:( Reuters )
Widening its probe, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has zeroed in on foreign assets worth about Rs 4,000 crore of absconding diamond jeweller Nirav Modi for quick attachment under the anti-money laundering law in connection with the alleged USD 2 billion PNB fraud case.
Officials said the agency has got issued a number of judicial requests (Letters Rogatories), and with a few being in the pipeline, from a local court in Mumbai to be sent to countries like the US, UK, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Singapore for attachment of immovable properties likes houses and villas and bank accounts of Nirav Modi and his family.
The agency, they said, had deployed a special team of officers to find out these assets located in the foreign shores and after getting official inputs, it has now begun the action to attach them under the criminal provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) soon, with help from foreign authorities.
The estimated value of these about two dozen assets is approximately Rs 4,000 crore, they said. The central probe agency, in the past, has attached assets in Australia and the United States of America (USA) as part of its PMLA probe in other cases related to frauds.
The identified foreign assets are in the name of Modi, his family members and in some cases in the name of firms that the agency has called “bogus or dummy”. It is understood that some showrooms of the diamond jeweller in these countries are under the ED radar which will soon face attachment action.
Nirav Modi has been absconding since the alleged bank fraud, by far the highest in the country in terms of value, came to light early this year and an Interpol arrest warrant was recently notified against him even as India is working to get him extradited from the United Kingdom, where he was last reported to have been based.
The agency has attached assets worth Rs 700 crore of Modi and his family in the country till now. It has also filed a charge sheet against him alleging that he laundered and diverted over Rs 6,400 crore of bank funds abroad to dummy companies that were under his and his families’ control.
A total of 24 accused were listed in the charge sheet, filed under section 45 of the PMLA, including Nirav Modi, his father Deepak Modi, brother Neeshal Modi, sister Purvi Modi, brother-in-law Maiank Mehta and the designer jewellers’ firms–Ms Solar Exports, Stellar Diamonds and Diamonds R Us.
“These firms and Modi’s Firestar group of companies had fraudulently obtained Rs 6,498 crore through Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) issued by the Punjab National Bank, Brady House branch in Mumbai,” the central probe agency had said in a statement.
The funds so obtained, it said, by the three firms were “partly utilised for payment to various overseas companies and also for offsetting earlier LOUs”.
“It was revealed during investigation that the payments were made to 17 overseas entities in Hong Kong, Dubai and the USA since 2011 in the guise of export and import,” the agency said in its charge sheet. The ED had registered an FIR, called the Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR), in this instance on February 14.
The CBI had also filed two charge sheets in this case early this month, one against Nirav Modi and the other against his uncle who is absconding in the same case — Mehul Choksi. Nirav Modi and others are being probed under various criminal laws after the fraud came to light this year following a complaint by the Punjab National Bank (PNB) that they allegedly cheated the nationalised bank to the tune of over Rs 13,000 crore, with the purported involvement of a few employees of the bank.
Both Nirav Modi and Choksi are said to have left the country before criminal cases were lodged against them. Choksi is reported to have recently taken the citizenship of Antigua, a caribbean nation, and India has begun extradition proceedings against him too.