Billionaire jeweler denies involvement in huge Indian bank fraud

A demonstrator holds an effigy depicting billionaire jeweler Nirav Modi during a protest in Kolkata. Indian officials are on the lookout for Modi and his family, who police say left India in January prior to the case being filed. (Reuters)
Updated 20 February 2018
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Billionaire jeweler denies involvement in huge Indian bank fraud

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: Indian billionaire jeweler Nirav Modi, one of the prime accused in the country’s largest ever bank fraud, denies allegations leveled against him by Punjab National Bank (PNB), his lawyer said on Tuesday.
“There is nothing, there is nothing in it,” Vijay Aggarwal, a lawyer representing Modi, told Reuters, referring to the police complaint filed by PNB that alleges that companies linked to Modi and one of his relatives received credit worth nearly $1.8 billion between 2011 and 2017 using false guarantees supplied by two bank officials.
Aggarwal, speaking by telephone, declined to comment on where Modi was. Indian officials are on the lookout for Modi and his family, who police say left India in January prior to the case being filed.
“Everything is documented,” Aggarwal said of Modi’s dealings with PNB, adding that the state-owned bank had regularly levied fees on its dealings with the jeweler’s firms.
Asked about his legal strategy, Aggarwal said: “Until there is no chargesheet, there is no strategy. When there is a chargesheet, there will be a strategy.”
According to a police complaint by PNB, the two officials at a Mumbai branch of the bank steered fraudulent loans to companies linked to Modi and entities tied to jewelry retailer Gitanjali Gems, which is led by Modi’s uncle, Mehul Choksi.
“They are covering themselves up,” Aggarwal said of the complaint. “They want to avoid liability ... that is why they are cooking up this story.”
Choksi, who has also left the country, has not commented. Gitanjali, in a stock exchange filing, has denied Choksi’s involvement in the alleged fraud.
Five bank officials, including the two at the Mumbai branch, have been arrested.
The fraud case has stunned financial markets and it sent PNB shares tumbling for a fifth straight trading day on Tuesday.
Shares in PNB, which has shed nearly a third of its market value since disclosing the fraud, were down 3.5 percent in early trading after rating agency Fitch placed the bank on negative watch. Later, Moody’s also placed the bank’s ratings under review for a downgrade.
Separately, in a letter to PNB officials, Modi stated that his companies owe the bank under 50 billion rupees ($775.25 million), much lower than the amount alleged by the bank. He also said PNB has jeopardized its chances of recovering the sums owed by going public with its allegations.
“The erroneously cited liability resulted in a media frenzy which led to immediate search and seizure of operations, and which in turn resulted in Firestar International and Firestar Diamond International effectively ceasing to be going-concerns,” he wrote in a letter seen by Reuters. “This thereby jeopardized our ability to discharge the dues of the group to the banks.” Both companies are controlled by Modi. The fraud allegedly involves at least three firms controlled by Modi and others by Choksi.


May to argue 2nd referendum would violate public trust

Updated 17 December 2018
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May to argue 2nd referendum would violate public trust

LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May is set to condemn calls for a second referendum on Britain’s departure from the European Union, saying it would do irreparable damage to trust in democracy.
In remarks released ahead of her speech in the House of Commons on Monday, May says that staging another referendum “would say to millions who trusted in democracy that our democracy does not deliver.”
She’s also expected to argue that such a ballot would exacerbate divisions rather than heal them.
May’s supporters distanced themselves from media reports that senior figures in her government held talks with opposition Labour lawmakers aimed at holding another vote.
With time growing short toward Britain’s scheduled March 29 departure, it remains unclear whether the country will leave with a deal or crash out with no deal.