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.


Far-right shuts French rapper out of Bataclan attack site

Updated 21 September 2018
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Far-right shuts French rapper out of Bataclan attack site

  • Medine, a Muslim, insists his opponents are trying to divide France
  • The father of an attack victim joined protests against the concerts

PARIS: A popular French Muslim rapper said Friday he is canceling sold-out October concerts at the Bataclan music hall in Paris, a target of the deadly 2015 terror attacks, due to pressure from far-right groups who claim he promotes a radical ideology and is desecrating a now-sacred site.
The statement by Medine came as far-right activists announced plans to try to keep concert-goers from entering the hall for his shows. The father of an attack victim joined them, stressing he was apolitical but wanted action. Patrick Jardin said later that canceling the concert avoided the risk of violence.
Since June, the right and far-right have waged a campaign to shut down Medine’s shows.
The singer said on his verified Facebook and Twitter accounts that the far-right activists’ goal was “to divide” the nation, and “they don’t hesitate to manipulate and reawaken the pain of the families of victims.”
He said he was canceling out of respect for victims’ families and out of concern for fans’ safety. Medine said he would perform, instead, in November at another major Paris music venue.
“It’s a decision of good sense,” said Jardin, the father of Nathalie Jardin, a Bataclan lighting engineer who was among 90 people killed on Nov. 13, 2015, when extremists invaded the music hall, one of several targets that night in which 130 people were killed.
“I think they avoided blood running again at the Bataclan,” he said, noting that “very determined” people were expected to show up ahead of the concerts.
Jardin said he wrote twice to Medine but never received a response from him or from the police chief.
A 2005 album by Medine, “Jihad,” with a picture of the singer with a saber, was posted on social media in June, melded to a poster of his upcoming Bataclan show, spurring rancor and leading some to believe he would sing about jihad, or holy war. Medine has noted the album’s subtitle is “The Biggest Combat is Against Yourself.”
In a 2015 album “Don’t Laik,” evoking French secularism in a play on words, he sings, “Crucify (secularists) like in Golgotha,” or Calvary, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.
“We can’t allow victims to be assassinated a second time,” said activist Richard Roudier of the League du Midi.