Hours after the UK daily The Telegraph reported that Nirav Modi has set up a new diamond business in London and is living a “privileged lifestyle” in the city, the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, Raveesh Kumar, said Saturday that India is making strong efforts to bring back the fugitive businessman.
India, Kumar said, is waiting for a response from the UK to its request for extradition sent in August last year.
The Telegraph said it had tracked down Modi to an £8 million, three-bedroom apartment “occupying half of a floor of the landmark Centre Point tower block” in London’s West End, with views across the city.
Modi, it said, “is now involved in a new diamond business run from an office in Soho”, and has been given a National Insurance number by the UK Department for Work & Pensions”.
He “has been able to operate online bank accounts in the UK while wanted by Indian authorities”, and has been “in contact with a wealth management company based in west London, which specialises in advice to rich foreigners”, The Telegraph said.
No boost to case, extradition is key
For the CBI and ED cases against Nirav Modi, the report is not of much significance. Following the issuance of Red Notices against him, the UK had confirmed to India that he was in London. On the basis of this communication, CBI and ED had moved extradition requests through the Ministry of External Affairs. The report could help build pressure on the UK to move faster in the matter.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which is probing a case of money laundering against Modi and has sent an extradition request against him to the UK, said on Saturday that the UK Home Ministry has sent the request to a Westminster court that deals with extradition.
“Request for extradition of Nirav Modi to India was sent in July 2018 to the UK. The UK Central Authority of Home Office has confirmed that the Extradition Request has been sent to the Westminster Court for the District Judge for further proceedings,” the ED statement said.
The report in The Telegraph, however, said: “The Home Office has declined to comment on the case while courts have no record of any extradition case being opened against Modi.”
At a media briefing in New Delhi, the MEA spokesperson said the government was aware of Modi’s presence in the UK, and had made the request for his extradition in August last year. “The fact that we have requested the UK government for the extradition of Nirav Modi means that we are aware that he is in the UK. Otherwise, we would not have made the extradition request,” Kumar said.
“We first made a request for extradition based on information provided by the ED in early August and then by CBI in late August. Despite what we see on television, the status remains the same. The UK government is yet to respond to MEA’s request,” he said.
Kumar added that the UK was still considering the request for the extradition of Modi. Extradition of a fugitive, he said, was a long-drawn process, and India was strongly pursuing the matter with the UK.
“Just because Nirav Modi has been spotted doesn’t mean he will be brought back immediately. Both requests are under UK govt consideration. There is no demand for fresh document or request has been sought from the UK side from us so far. We are awaiting a response from UK government,” the spokesperson said.
CBI sources said the ball was now in the MEA’s court as far as bringing back Modi was concerned.
“We had got a Red Notice issued against Modi by the Interpol on June 26, 2018. In August that year, the UK had confirmed to us that Modi was in London. We immediately sent an extradition request through the MEA. Since then, the MEA has been pursuing the matter with the UK,” a CBI officer said.
CBI and ED are investigating Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi in the Rs 13,500 crore Punjab National Bank scam. According to the CBI and ED, Modi, Choksi, and companies owned by them took over Rs 13,000 crore from PNB through fraudulent Letters of Undertaking and Letters of Credit between 2011 and 2017. It was alleged that Modi and others committed the offence in connivance with certain bank officials.
The ED has alleged that Modi diverted loan funds through a maze of shell companies and used them for personal purposes or for purposes other than those the loans were sanctioned for.
Nirav Modi left India along with his family in the first week of January 2018, weeks before the scam was reported to the CBI. His wife Ami, a US citizen, left on January 6, and Choksi on January 4.
The CBI in its chargesheets alleged that Nirav, through his companies, siphoned off funds to the tune of Rs 6,498.20 crore using fraudulent LoUs issued from PNB’s Brady House branch in Mumbai. Choksi allegedly swindled Rs 7,080.86 crore.
On the basis of the FIR registered by CBI, ED initiated an investigation under the provisions of The Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002, on February 14. Since then, the agency has searched more than 75 locations related to this case all over India. Nirav Modi was summoned thrice to appear personally before investigators.
“On the request of ED, his passport was revoked by the Ministry of External Affairs. Total Attachment of INR 1873.08 Crore vide 12 provisional attachment orders and total seizure of Rs 489.75 Crore vide 20 seizure orders in Nirav Modi case including various overseas assets and Bank accounts have been carried out. The attachment includes overseas attachment of Rs 961.49 Crore in Hong Kong, Switzerland, USA, Singapore and UAE,” the ED said in its statement.
On May 24, last year, the ED filed a prosecution complaint against Modi. “Cognizance of the same has been taken by the Court and Open Ended NBW was issued on 27.07.2018. Application under Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018 has been filed on 10.07.2018 against Nirav Modi for declaring him a fugitive offender and for confiscation of his properties worth INR 1404.7 Crore. The proceedings are pending before the PMLA Special Court. Supplementary Prosecution Complaint has been filed on 28.02.2019. Money trail of USD 927 million out of proceeds of crime of USD 1015 million has been ascertained,” the ED statement said.
It said it had also sent 18 Letters Rogatory to Armenia, Belgium, China, France, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, South Africa, the UAE, the UK, the USA, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Switzerland. Extradition requests had been sent to the UK, the USA, and Egypt for Nirav Modi and his associates Mihir Bhansali and Subhash Parab respectively.
Choksi is now a citizen of the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda. India’s request for his extradition is pending.