Who is Nirav Modi and how did he pull off Rs 11,360-crore bank fraud?

His last major public appearance was at World Economic Forum 2018, where he was part of the delegation that accompanied Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

 |  4-minute read |   15-02-2018
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Mumbai-based diamond merchant and jewellery designer Nirav Modi, the prime accused in the Rs 11,360-crore banking fraud reported by the Punjab National Bank (PNB), has fled the country. According to reports, he has flown to Switzerland to evade arrest. Incidentally, Nirav's last major public appearance was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he was part of a delegation of Indian businessmen and corporate leaders that accompanied Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Nirav’s fraud was revealed in the third week of January, when his companies sought a fresh loan from PNB, which is India’s second-largest state-run bank. When the bank insisted on guarantees to issue Letters of Understanding (LoU) — an assurance given by one bank to another as security to meet liabilities on behalf of a customer — the companies allegedly said they had used the facility before.

That's when the bank started its investigation. PNB claims it was soon discovered that an unauthorised junior-level official fraudulently issued LoUs on behalf of some companies belonging to the Nirav Modi Group. According to PNB’s complaint to CBI, five LoUs were issued in favour of Allahabad Bank at Hong Kong and three in favour of Axis Bank at Hong Kong.

nirav_021518030905.jpgPhoto: Screengrab/NiravMehta.com

Based on a complaint from PNB, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) raided Nirav Modi's home, showrooms and offices in Mumbai, Delhi and Surat. According to reports, on February 15, 10 of Modi’s properties (at least) were raided, including his home in Mumbai's Worli, his jewellery boutique in the city's Kala Ghoda area, and showrooms in Delhi's Chanakyapuri and Defence Colony.

The CBI alleged that the agency had received two complaints against Nirav being involved in a fraud worth Rs 10,000 crore.

He was already under the CBI's scanner, having being previously named in a FIR lodged over an alleged Rs 280-crore fraud, again at PNB, although it isn't clear whether it is directly linked to the reports about the Rs 11,000-crore fraud.

Who is Nirav Modi

1) Nirav Modi is an entrepreneur. The 47-year-old is the founder of a brand after his name, owned by the firm Firestar Diamond, a $2.3 billion jewellery company. His brand is one of repute and his clientele stretches across three continents, with stores in Mumbai, London, New York, Las Vegas, Hawaii, Singapore, Beijing and Macau.

2) Born in India, Nirav grew up in Antwerp, Belgium and comes from a family of diamantaires (master diamond cutters). According to reports, Nirav, like many other famous entrepreneurs around the world, is a college dropout.

At the age of 19, after quitting Wharton School, Nirav joined his uncle Mehul Choksi in the family business, Gitanjali Gems.

3) In 2017, Nirav featured in Forbeslist of richest Indians, ranking at 85. The same year, he also featured in Forbeslist of billionaires across the world, ranked at the respectable 1,234th position. His net worth as of October 2017, according to Forbes, was $1.8 billion.

4) Nirav’s designer jewellery pieces cost anywhere between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 50 crore. According to Mint, Modi was the first Indian to feature on the cover of a Christie’s auction catalogue in 2010 for his Golconda diamond necklace that fetched $3.56 million at a Hong Kong auction. In 2012, his Riviere Diamond Necklace was sold for $5.1 million at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong.

Nirav Modi, as per reports, has said that he is ready to pay back the loans to the tune of Rs 5,000 crore. Of course, PNB's managing director Sunil Mehta said that the offer was not "concrete". Add to that, the involvement of Arun Jaitley — the finance minister has sought a status report from the ED — and this scam having turned into a political issue, attracting statements from Congress and AAP. Will a settlement work even if it is "concrete"?

Also read: Mohan Bhagwat must explain why he has lost faith in Indian Army

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