New Delhi: Central investigation agencies today turned up the heat on embattled jewellery designer Nirav Modi in a huge bank fraud case, by seizing diamond and gold jewellery worth Rs 5,100 crore in nationwide searches and initiating the process for revoking his passport, officials said.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) moved separate applications to the external affairs ministry seeking the revocation of passports of Modi and his maternal uncle Mehul Choksi, the promoter of Gitanjali jewellery chain, both accused in the 280-crore bank fraud case the officials said.
The CBI completed the analysis of computers seized from premises linked to him and was going through the two fresh complaints received from PNB on Tuesday that it had been defrauded of Rs 11,400 crore to decide its future course of action. The day for companies and outlets owned or partnered by the 46-year-old diamond merchant, who has fled the country on January 1, began with the ED carrying out searches at properties linked to him in Mumbai, Delhi and Gujarat and claiming to have seized gold and diamond jewellery and precious stones worth Rs 5,100 crore.
As many as 17 locations in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Jaipur and Surat were raided by the ED after the agency filed a Rs 280-crore money laundering case against Modi, his wife Ami, brother Nishal and Choksi yesterday, following a complaint by the bank. ED officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said five properties belonging to Modi and the other accused in Mumbai were sealed by the agency.
The ED has also written to the Income Tax department for sharing all documents seized by it during raids on January last year from premises linked to Modi and his associates. The ED filed the case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) after going through a CBI FIR registered on January 31. The agency also went through the PNB complaint that was made out against Nirav Modi and others.
The ED, they said, would probe if the allegedly defrauded bank funds were laundered and these proceeds of crime were subsequently used by the accused to create illegal assets and black money. Modi, a regular feature on the lists of rich and famous Indians since 2013, was booked by the CBI, along with wife, brother and Choksi on January 31, for allegedly cheating the state-run bank to the tune of Rs 280 crore. The bank has sent two more complaints to the CBI on Tuesday, saying the scam was worth more than Rs 11,400 crore.
In a related development, the CBI officials said Modi and other members of his family, who fled the country last month, allegedly made fraudulent transactions of over Rs 11,400 crore through 150 letters of understanding issued by the bank. Modi, who holds an Indian passport, left India on January 1, while his brother Nishal, a Belgian citizen, also left the country on the same day.
However, whether they travelled together has to be probed, they said. Modi's wife Ami, a US citizen, left on January 6 and his uncle Choksi departed on January 4, the officials said. The bank became suspicious only on January 16 when the accused companies — Diamond R US, Solar Exports and Stellar Diamonds (all accused in the CBI FIR) — approached it with import documents and a request to issue Letters of Understanding (LoUs) for raising buyers' credit for making payments to the overseas suppliers.
The bank, however, could not find any past entries in the system, the FIR has alleged. It approached the CBI on January 29 with a complaint of Rs 280 crore fraud, officials said. Nirav Modi, who is believed to be in Switzerland, was also present in a group photograph of Indian CEOs with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, issued by the Press Information Bureau, during the World Economic Forum on January 23, six days before the bank sent its first complaint against him to the CBI, according to the officials.
The agency immediately swung into action registering an FIR on January 31 followed by searches at 20 locations in Mumbai and Surat and issued a lookout circular on February 4 against Nirav Modi and three absconding accused, they said. A lookout circular is issued by enforcement agencies to all exit and entry ports to inform them about the movement of an accused.
The question why the PNB did not send one complaint to the CBI and decided to give separately is also under the scanner of the agency, they said. The agency is analysing the fresh complaints and will take a call whether to register fresh FIRs or expand the ambit of the existing FIR related to fraudulent transactions of worth Rs 280 crore, they said. In these cases, the bank has alleged that the LoUs were issued to Hong Kong-based branches of Allahabad Bank and Axis Bank, they said.