PNB fraud: ED seeks non-bailable warrant against Nirav Modi
Mumbai: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Tuesday moved a special court in Mumbai, seeking issuance of a non-bailable warrant against diamond trader Nirav Modi, a key accused in the over Rs12,000-crore PNB fraud case.
On Monday, the court, set up under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, had allowed the central agency’s plea seeking issuance of letters rogatory (LRs) to six countries for obtaining information about the overseas businesses and assets of Nirav Modi.
Special PMLA court judge M.S. Azmi on Tuesday heard the arguments of ED’s special counsel Hiten Venegoankar on the agency’s plea seeking issuance of the non-bailable warrant against Nirav Modi, who is believed to be in the US.
The judge will hear on Wednesday Modi’s lawyer Ashul Agarwal on the issue of his locus standi to address the court in the absence of his client.
Venegoankar told the court that the ED registered a case against Nirav Modi on 15 February and from that time issued three summonses to him to appear before the agency.
He said the summonses were issued on 15, 17 and 22 February, asking him to appear before the ED on 16, 17 and 26 February respectively.
The ED lawyer said Nirav Modi did not appear before the agency for questioning and hence it has sought issuance of an non-bailable warrant was against him.
Venegoankar said the first summons was issued to the billionaire jeweller on his last known address and his employee received it.
The other two were issued via e-mail. He said the agency received replies from Nirav Modi for two summonses. In response to the second summons, Nirav Modi said he cannot appear before the agency owing to his business commitments.
In reply to the third summons, the businessman raised the issue of his security, the ED counsel said.
“He has violated all the three summonses,” Venegoankar told the court and requested the court to issue an open-ended non-bailable warrant against Nirav Modi.
However, Nirav Modi’s advocate Agarwal told the court he should be heard before any decision is taken on issuing the non-bailable warrant as it involved fundamental rights of his client.
Meanwhile, the agency filed an application seeking LRs to seven more countries—Malaysia, Armenia, France, China, Japan, Russia and Belgium—in connection with the case.
On Monday, the court had issued LRs for recovery/ seizure of proceeds of crime and collection of documents, evidence lying in Hong Kong, the USA, the UK, the UAE, South Africa and Singapore for purpose of investigation.
Letters Rogatory are a formal request from a court of a sovereign nation to a court of another sovereign nation for judicial assistance in a case.
On 31 January, the CBI had registered an FIR against Nirav Modi, his companies, and diamond jeweller Mehul Choksi in connection with the PNB fraud.
The CBI has so far arrested Vipul Ambani, president (finance) of Nirav Modi’s Fire Star Diamond, Kavita Mankikar (executive assistant and authorised signatory of three firms—Diamond R US, Stellar Diamond, Solar Exports), Arjun Patil (senior executive, Firestar Group) and Rajesh Jindal, the then head of the Brady House branch of PNB.
The others arrested are: Bechhu Tiwari, the then chief manager in the Forex department of PNB, Yashwant Joshi, the Scale II manager in the Forex department, Praful Sawant, the Scale-I officer handling the exports section, Gokulnath Shetty, the then deputy manager (now retired) of PNB, Manoj Kharat, a single window operator of PNB, and Hemant Bhat, the authorised signatory of Nirav Modi’s company.
Among those arrested in connection with Choksi’s firms are Nakshatra Group and Gitanjali Group CFO Kapil Khandelwal and Gitanjali Group manager Niten Shahi.
The FIR had listed eight fraudulent transactions worth over Rs280 crore, but based on further complaints from the bank, the CBI said the quantum of amount in the first FIR is over Rs6,498 crore, involving 150 LoUs allegedly issued fraudulently by Shetty and Kharat.
The remaining 150 fraudulent LoUs worth over Rs4,886 crore issued for Gitanjali group of companies were part of the second FIR registered earlier this month by the agency against Choksi and his companies Gitanjali Gems, Nakshatra Brands and Gili.
Also on Tuesday, a magistrate’s court in Mumbai issued a bailable arrest warrant against Nirav Modi in connection with a case of alleged tax evasion in purchase of a property which turned out to be “benami”, an Income Tax department official said.
Benami properties are those that are not bought and registered in the name of their real owner. Holding benami properties is an offence.
“The court has issued a bailable warrant against Modi,” the official said. He said the department was investigating the matter against Modi since 2017 but declined to disclose the details of the property.
The Income Tax department had recorded the statements of Modi, who is said to be in the US, and some of his employees. The official said the probe revealed that Modi had given a false statement to department “When we went to his residence in Worli recently with summons, we found it locked,” the officer said. A case was later filed in the court. The court adjourned the case till next month.