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India seeks warrant for fugitive celebrity jeweller

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India has requested an international arrest warrant for fugitive billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi, federal police said Monday hours after reports claimed he had sought asylum in Britain.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), probing a multi-billion-dollar scam allegedly involving Modi, said they had sent a request to Interpol to issue a so-called red corner notice seeking his detention.

“A request has been sent to the Interpol,” CBI official R. K. Gaur told AFP.

Gaur however refused to confirm newspaper reports about attempts by Modi — worth $1.73 billion according to Forbes, placing him 85th on India’s rich list — to seek refuge in Britain.

The Financial Times newspaper on Monday cited officials in India and Britain as saying that the jeweller, whose clients included movie stars, had sought asylum in Britain for what he called “political persecution”.

A spokesman for Britain’s Home Office said it does not comment on individual cases.

His high-end eponymous brand has stores in several of the world’s major cities and boasts celebrity customers including actresses Naomi Watts and Kate Winslet and Bollywood megastar Priyanka Chopra.

But he fled India in February for an unknown location after being accused of being at the centre of a $1.8-billion fraud involving India’s second largest public lender, Punjab National Bank (PNB).

The 47-year-old and his uncle and business partner Mehul Choksi, also a diamond merchant, allegedly defrauded PNB out of 2.8 billion rupees ($43.8 million).

This figure is said to be just a part of the total losses. Authorities say he diverted large sums of the loan money illegally to invest in foreign-based companies.

His escape had caused massive public outcry, with opposition political parties accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of helping him flee.

Several Indian courts have issued arrest warrants over his failure to appear before them since he fled.

The Enforcement Directorate, India’s financial fraud-investigating agency, had unsuccessfully approached Interpol in March for an international arrest warrant.

– Soured relations –

India’s government is trying to reduce the crippling debts of the country’s embattled state banks, including PNB.

It recently announced a $32-billion recapitalisation plan to help them clean up their books ahead of the general election in 2019.

Last month PNB posted the largest ever quarterly loss for an Indian lender — 134.17 billion rupees — largely because it had to set aside funds to pay other banks over the scam.

Modi’s reported attempt to seek asylum in Britain comes as India’s government seeks the extradition from there of liquor tycoon Vijay Mallya.

Mallya is wanted in connection with allegedly unpaid loans to his beleaguered Kingfisher Airlines after he absconded to Britain in 2016. The case has soured British-Indian relations.

An Indian government statement said that Shri Kiren Rijiju, deputy interior minister, told on Monday his visiting British counterpart Susan Williams that Britain “should not be viewed as a safe haven for men wanted by the law”.

India’s PTI news agency quoted unnamed sources as saying that Williams confirmed in the meeting Modi’s presence in Britain but that she had promised London’s full cooperation.


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