Nirav Modi’s lawyer says unaware of billionaire jeweller’s plans to return to India

Vijay Agarwal flew down to Mumbai from New Delhi on Wednesday to represent two employees’ of Firestar International, the flagship of Nirav Modi’s empire—who have been arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), in the special court.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2018 23:09 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Nirav Modi,Nirav Modi's lawyer,PNB fraud case
File photo of jeweller Nirav Modi at the launch of his store in Mumbai.(Reuters File Photo)

Vijay Agarwal, counsel for Nirav Modi, claimed that he was unaware of the fugitive billionaire jewellers’ plans to return India to face law in connection with the Rs. 11,400 crore bank fraud at Punjab National Bank.

Agarwal flew down to Mumbai from New Delhi on Wednesday to represent two employees’ of Firestar International, the flagship of Nirav Modi’s empire—who have been arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), in the special court.

“Though I am in touch with Modi intermittently, I did not discuss his return plans,” added Agarwal who ducked questions on Modi’s whereabouts.

Full coverage of PNB fraud case

The CBI produced six suspects in court on Wednesday: Vipul Ambani, the CFO of Modi’s companies; Kavita Mankikar, executive assistant and authorized signatory of three accused firms; Arjun Patil, a senior executive with Modi’s Firestar group; Rajesh Jindal, who was heading PNB’s Brady House branch in Mumbai; Nitin Shahi, the assistant finance officer of M/s Gitanjali Gems Ltd; and Kapil Khandelwal, CFO of Nakshatra World Ltd in Gitanjali.

Six others have already been arrested, including a serving PNB employee, a suspended one, and a retired employee.

Modi, his uncle Mehul Choksi and their companies (the Firestar group and its various affiliates in the case of the first; and the Gitanjali group in the case of the second) are accused of perpetrating the fraud on Punjab National Bank. CBI has claimed that the companies convinced employees at the bank to issue letters of undertaking (essentially bank guarantees) without making entries on these in the books of banks. They used these letters to borrow money overseas, for the apparent purpose of buying diamonds and pearls. It isn’t clear if they did. When the payments became due, the lenders reached out to PNB, which discovered a fraud had been perpetrated.

The CBI also sealed Nirav Modi’s bungalow in Alibag, a seaside town in Maharashtra’s Raigadh district, as part of its probe after Punjab National Bank (PNB) accused the fugitive diamond merchant of a Rs 11,400-crore fraud.

The agency has also searched several offices and residential properties of Modi and his associates. The investigators are questioning several PNB officials and many people linked to the billionaire jeweller and arrested bank executives.

The Income tax department, meanwhile, has attached 141 bank accounts of Modi’s business entities so far. A person familiar with the matter said the total credit balance in these accounts came to Rs 145.74 crores.

First Published: Feb 21, 2018 23:09 IST