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FinCEN Files: Wanted at home, Mumbai luxury car king flagged to US watchdog too

Due to “concerns of the heightened money laundering risk” associated with Vertu’s wire activities, Barclays Knightsbridge also filed its own SAR with its local regulator.

110 media organisations in 88 countries teamed up with ICIJ and BuzzFeed News to trace the Indian entities and banks named in these SARs filed with FinCEN between 1999 and 2017.

MOST of his companies in the luxury brand market are defunct; in 2014, two banks in India published default notices against Ashish Chordia and his mother for Rs 48.40 crore; he faced several charges of cheating and fraud and was arrested in Delhi in 2013 in one such case before he got bail only to have a non-bailable arrest warrant issued from the Bombay High Court in 2016.

At around the same time as Chordia, chairman of the Mumbai-based Shreyans Group, was under the scanner for bank default by SBI and IDBI, two branches of UK’s Barclays Bank PLC, one in London and the other in New York, flagged to their respective regulators seven transfers amounting to $1.34 million and involving three companies he owned, records investigated by The Indian Express show.

In 2015, Barclays New York filed a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) with the US regulator Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), records show, on a set of 2014 transactions between Vertu Investment Ltd (UK) and Shreyans Lifestyle Pvt Ltd (India), Uber LLC (USA) — no relationship with Uber Technologies — and Streamline Global Holdings Limited (Hong Kong).

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Owned by Chordia, Vertu Investments Ltd (UK) was a customer of Barclays Knightsbridge, London, for which Barclays NY maintained a USD account. Due to “concerns of the heightened money laundering risk” associated with Vertu’s wire activities, Barclays Knightsbridge also filed its own SAR with its local regulator.

FinCEN Files: Before bankruptcy and probe, Bhushan Steel hit US radar for flows from Latvia, Dubai

These SARs cited Chordia’s alleged failure to provide any documentation for these transactions which had “no apparent economic, business, or lawful purpose.”

Asked if and when Barclays Knightsbridge-London terminated its relationship with Vertu (UK), a Barclays spokesperson said: “US criminal law prohibits unauthorised disclosure of SARs or information about SARs. We are therefore not permitted to comment… even when the SARs in question may have been publicly disclosed. We are also not permitted to comment on individuals or businesses, including to confirm whether they are or have been a client.”

Chordia did not respond to multiple emails.

Chordia has a chequered record. He claimed he had established “India’s first luxury retail brand” that famously brought a host of high-profile automobile brands such as Porsche, Audi, Ducati, Maserati and Ferrari to India between 2004 and 2011. By 2014, however, he was no longer their dealer and faced several cases of alleged fraud.

READ | FinCEN Files: 44 Indian banks, transactions of $1 billion, flagged to US regulator

Between May and August 2014, records show, Uber LLC (USA) and Streamline (Hong Kong) sent a total of $6.85 lakh to Vertu (UK) in four transactions. During the same period, Vertu (UK) sent $6.54 lakh to Shreyans Lifestyle (India) in three transactions.

Vertu’s remaining wire activity, records show, included transactions with a gold exporter, a law firm, and a funding company that appeared “to be genuine businesses possessing widespread public profiles” and were “not deemed suspects” by the SAR.

Barclays Knightsbridge, claimed the SAR, contacted Chordia multiple times to determine the economic purpose for Vertu’s wire activities and to obtain documentary evidence for the transactions. In response, Barclays Knightsbridge noted, Chordia provided documentation that was “inadequate and to date, no documentary evidence has been provided.”

Editorial | Transactions red-flagged to US financial watchdog point to important gaps in India’s regulatory architecture

Vertu Investments, records show, remained dormant since incorporation in May 2013 with a registered address in London. It is owned by Shreyans Lifestyle, which is, in turn, 90.57% owned by Chordia (the rest belongs to his family members). The company was struck off the UK register for inactivity in 2017 and restored subsequently in 2018.

Shreyans Lifestyle is part of Chordia’s Shreyans Group, which was involved in the luxury brand market in India, including the import of luxury vehicles by Shreyans Motors. According to the Registrar of Companies records, Barclays Bank Mumbai granted a secured loan of Rs 14.25 crore to Shreyans Lifestyle in October 2008 and enhanced the facility to Rs 37.67 crore in October 2009. As per Barclay Knightsbridge, Chordia was also the owner of Uber LLC which shared Chordia’s US address on Santa Monica Boulevard, California. Streamline Global Holdings Ltd, noted the SAR, was a customer of HSBC (Hong Kong) and appeared “to be a shell company which sent large round dollar wire transfers in a very short time span to Vertu.” Most of Chordia’s companies have become either defunct (Fiorano Motors), been struck off (Precision Cars), or gone under liquidation (Shreyans Motors). The last balance sheet filed by Shreyans lifestyle Private Limited was for 2009-2010.

READ | FinCEN Files — Cyprus to Isle of Man: Over 100 transactions linked to Max chairman

In October 2017, the Bombay High Court said that a non-bailable warrant directed to be issued against Ashish Chordia in August 2016 was yet to be executed because he was absconding. In March 2019, the Bombay High Court noted that Chordia’s advocate did not receive any “instructions since more than two years” and that there was a look-out notice against Chordia.

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