New Delhi: The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) today suspended with immediate effect the passports of diamantaire Nirav Modi and his business partner Mehul Choksi for four weeks.
The ministry said that it did not know where Nirav Modi was, gave them one week to respond why their passports should not be revoked.
"If they fail to respond within the stipulated time it will be assumed that they have no response to offer and the MEA will go ahead with the revocation," MEA said in a statement.
Announcing the suspension, the statement said,"On the advice of the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the passport issuing authority in the MEA has today suspended the validity of passports of Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi with immediate effect for a period of four weeks u/s 10(A) of the Passports Act 1967."
They have been asked to respond within one week why their passports should not be impounded or revoked under Section 10(3)(c) of the Passports Act 1967, it said.
"The gentleman is not in touch with any of our officers and we don't know his location," MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said when asked if Nirav Modi was in touch with the ministry and if the government knew his whereabouts.
Asserting that Nirav Modi was not part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's official delegation to Davos, Kumar said the group photo of the prime minister with a group of businessmen was just an "impromptu" event.
Meanwhile, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has approached the Interpol to locate billionaire jewellery designer Nirav Modi and his family who had left the country in the first week of January, weeks before the scam was reported to the agency, officials said.
Officials said the CBI approached the Interpol with a request for issuing Diffusion Notice which was aimed at locating an individual.
"This (diffusion) is less formal than a notice but is also used to request the arrest or location of an individual or additional information in relation to a police investigation. A diffusion is circulated directly by an NCB (CBI in this case) to the member countries of their choice, or to the entire INTERPOL membership and is simultaneously recorded in Interpol’s Information System," the website of Interpol says.
The CBI was confident about getting a location of Modi and his family by today, they said.
Nirav Modi, who was alleged to have carried out fraudulent transactions worth over Rs 11,400 crore in Punjab National Bank, had left the country in the first week of January.
The 46-year old, who holds an Indian passport, left India on January 1, while his brother Nishal, a Belgian citizen, departed from the country on the same day. However, whether they travelled together has to be probed, they said.
Nirav Modi's wife Ami, a US citizen, left on January 6 and his uncle and business partner Mehul Choksi, the promoter of Gitanjali jewellery chain, left on January 4, the officials said.
The CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) have approached the government seeking revocation of passports of Modi and Choksi.
The billionaire diamond merchant, a regular 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 Punjab National Bank to the tune of Rs 280 crore.
The CBI and the ED yesterday moved separate applications to MEA seeking the revocation Nirav Modi's passport as well as that of his maternal uncle and his business partner Mehul Choksi, the promoter of Gitanjali jewellery chain. Both are accused in the Rs 280 crore bank fraud case.
(With agency inputs)