Almost three months before the Rs 13,600-crore banking fraud in the state-owned Punjab National Bank (PNB) became public, diamond jeweller Nirav Modi tried to secure a citizenship of Vanuatu, an island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean, sources confirmed to The Indian Express.
For citizenship of Vanuatu, Modi had, in November 2017, transferred $195,000 from his personal account to one of the 18 authorised agents of the Vanuatu government who facilitate Citizenship by Investment program of the country.
Subsequently, the Vanuatu government ran an intelligence check on Modi and unearthed “adverse findings” against him. This prompted the Vanuatu government to reject Modi’s request for citizenship, these sources said.
Vanuatu is an island nation in the South Pacific off northern Australia.
“The purpose of the $195,000 was to pay the application fee for honorary Vanuatu citizenship. However, a Government Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) probity check found adverse findings against Mr Modi. Therefore his application was not considered by the Government,” Justin Ngwele, managing partner of Vanuatu-based law firm Indigene Lawyers which processed Modi’s application, told The Indian Express in response to questions on email.
Vanuatu offers second or dual citizenship and under its honorary citizenship program, foreigners can become citizens through investment. The fee for such citizenship for one person is $160,000 with an additional fee of $5,000 for FIU due diligence.
Nirav Modi and his maternal uncle Mehul Choksi are being investigated by Indian investigating agencies after PNB complained against their companies, saying that the bank had been cheated of Rs 13,600 crore through fraudulent issue of letters LoUs and foreign letters of credit (FLCs). PNB in its January 29 complaint to CBI said that the bank detected the fraud only in third week of January.
Both Modi and Choksi left India in the first week of January.While Nirav Modi is in the UK and has applied for asylum in June, Choksi has become a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda and is learnt to be residing there.
“We no longer have any dealings with Mr Modi. Mr Modi or his family members don’t have Vanuatu citizenship,” said Ngwele. Ngwele said he is not aware of the nature of the “adverse findings” obtained by the Vanuatu government against Modi through the FIU probity check of his country. “We remitted his (Modi’s) money back to him,” said Ngwele.
According to the website of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, data on population of overseas Indians, there are 810 non-resident Indians and persons of Indian origin in Vanuatu as of December 2017.
Modi has been accused of diverting over Rs 4,000 crore of the Rs 6,519 crore outstanding fraudulent LoUs issued by PNB to his firms and family overseas.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED), is now planning to attach international assets and bank accounts of Nirav Modi and a few of his relatives in the US, UK, Switzerland, Hongkong and Singapore said sources. The total value of the international attachments could be about Rs 1000 crore. So far, In India the ED has attached assets worth Rs 1500 crore of Modi and his firms. The agency has also moved court for confiscation of the attached assets of Modi under the newly introduced Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance.
Last month, the Interpol asked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), to submit an extradition request and a provisional arrest warrant issued from an Indian court against Modi. The Interpol’s communication to the CBI, the nodal agency for the Interpol in India, was in response to the Red Corner Notice (RCN) issued by the global agency against Modi in July.