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Government says blame UPA for PNB fraud, Congress advises 'homework' to BJP

The MEA on Friday suspended with immediate effect the passports of diamantaire Nirav Modi and his business partner Mehul Choksi for four weeks.  

Government says blame UPA for PNB fraud, Congress advises 'homework' to BJP
Pic courtesy: IANS

New Delhi: Hitting back at the Congress over the issue of fraud in Punjab National Bank, the BJP said on Friday that all the NPAs, the wrongful distribution of loans, among others were all passed down by the UPA government.

"This is a scam by the bank and not the government. The scam which has come to light is a scam of the UPA government. This started during UPA's reign in 2011," Union Minister Prakash Javdekar said while addressing the press. 

"It is the alertness of the NDA government which has brought this scam to light. All the NPAs, the wrongful distribution of loans were all passed down to us by the UPA government. Our government has acted swiftly by revoking Nirav Modi's passport and seizing properties of more than Rs 5,100 crore as soon as the matter came to its notice. We are making sure that the money is recovered," he added.

The Congress on Thursday had targeted the government over the scam allegedly involving billionaire jewellery designer Nirav Modi and had accused it of doing nothing to stop "independent India's biggest bank fraud" despite being informed of it in July 2016.

"Loot and escape" had become the hallmark of the government, the party had said, equating the celebrity designer with liquor baron Vijay Mallya, former IPL chief Lalit Modi and other businessmen such as Rishi Agarwal who fled the country after allegedly committing frauds worth crores of rupees.

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi had led the charge, alleging that the NDA government looked the other way when Nirav Modi used his "clout" with the PM to slip out of the country.

Congress communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala had asked if the billionaire jewellery designer had a tip-off that prompted him to leave the country.

"Billionaire Nirav Modi steals Rs 12,000 crore right under the nose of the Modi government and flees the country. Has it become the norm for letting people run away with public money? Who is responsible?" he had asked.

On the other hand, the BJP while declaring that no one irrespective of stature will be spared by the probe agencies, had condemned Congress' attack on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi as "baseless".

The party had fielded Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to counter allegations against the government and he had dubbed the Congress' reference of "chhota Modi" for Nirav Modi, as "derogatory, demeaning, shameful, utterly irresponsible and scandalous".

Seeking to turn the heat on the Congress, he had pointed out that the alleged fraud had started in 2011 when it was in power and questioned whose "blessings" were with Mehul Choksi, Nirav's business partner, as the income of Choksi's firm Gitanjali Gems doubled between 2011-13.

Reacting to Prasad, the Congress tweeted on Friday, "Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad should've done a little bit of homework on the Nirav Modi - Mehul Choksi scam. The CBI FIR clearly shows LoUs were issued in Feb 2017. Yet, the Modi government  prefers to live in denial."

In what could be the biggest banking fraud in India, state-owned Punjab National Bank has said that it has detected a USD 1.77 billion scam in which Nirav Modi allegedly acquired fraudulent letters of undertaking from one of its branches for overseas credit from other Indian lenders.

PNB said in a statement that fraudulent transactions took place in one of its branches in Mumbai for the benefit of a few select account holders with their apparent connivance.

Nirav Modi, his wife Ami, brother Nishal and Mehul Choksi are partners in Diamonds R US, Solar Exports and Stellar Diamonds, which has shops in foreign locations such as Hong Kong, Dubai, and New York.

Meanwhile, the external affairs ministry on Friday suspended with immediate effect the passports of diamantaire Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi for four weeks.

The ministry has given them one week to respond why their passports should not be revoked.

(With PTI inputs)