PNB fraud accused Choksi says Indian authorities ignoring due process

In this file photo, pedestrians walk past a Punjab National Bank office in Mumbai, India. (Reuters)
Updated 08 March 2018
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PNB fraud accused Choksi says Indian authorities ignoring due process

MUMBAI: Mehul Choksi, the jeweller accused of being a central figure in an alleged fraud of nearly $2 billion against Punjab National Bank, criticized India’s investigating agencies in a letter alleging gross abuse of due process in the ongoing probe.
In a letter to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), one of the lead agencies probing the alleged loan fraud, Choksi said the seizure of his assets, bank accounts and the shutting down of all his offices in India has caused prejudice against him.
In the letter dated Mar. 7, which was reviewed by Reuters on Thursday, Choksi said investigating agencies were acting with pre-determined minds and interfering with the course of justice.
In what has been dubbed the biggest fraud in India’s banking history, Punjab National Bank (PNB) and police have accused two jewelry groups — one controlled by diamond tycoon Nirav Modi and the other by his uncle Choksi — of colluding with some bank employees to secure credit from overseas banks using fraudulent guarantees.
Choksi, who heads Gitanjali Gems, which operates stores under banners including Gili, Nakshatra and Asmi, said in his letter that while the CBI has seized his assets, it has yet to submit a “Seizure Memo” in court, as required by law.
Choksi, who authorities say left India before the complaint against him was filed and whose passport has been suspended, said he feared greatly that he would not get “fair treatment and a fair trial” if he returned.
Both Choksi and Modi have denied the allegations and lawyers for the two key accused PNB employees in the case have also said they are innocent. The whereabouts of Choksi and Modi, who police say also left India in January, are unknown.
A spokesman for the CBI said he did not have any immediate comment on Choksi’s letter.
Choksi said in the letter he had traveled abroad on business before the complaints were made and his departure was not “a direct result” of the allegations against him.
Local media reported last week that a Mumbai court issued non-bailable arrest warrants against Modi and Choksi following an appeal by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), an Indian agency focused on foreign exchange and money laundering offenses.
Choksi said in the letter that he had undergone a cardiac procedure during the first week of February and he was unable to travel for at least four to six months as the procedure was yet to be completed. He did not say where he was.
The jeweller also told the agency he was being threatened by individuals with whom he has a business relationship and that his employees, customers and creditors have started expressing their “animosity” after his business was shut down.
Choksi, accused the media of unfair coverage in the letter, and said politicians were politicizing the case and creating a bias against him.
Police have also so far arrested 19 people including eight of PNB’s current and former employees, along with executives from jeweller Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi’s companies.
A source and documents reviewed by Reuters on Tuesday showed the amount involved in the fraud is likely to rise beyond the $2 billion mark.


US energy secretary meets Saudi counterpart after OPEC cuts

Updated 10 December 2018
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US energy secretary meets Saudi counterpart after OPEC cuts

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s energy minister held talks Monday with US Energy Secretary Rick Perry, after the Kingdom and its allies defied US pressure to cut oil production in a bid to prop up prices.
They discussed the “state of the oil market” and energy cooperation between the two countries during a meeting in eastern Dhahran city, the minister, Khalid Al-Falih, said on Twitter.
Perry tweeted that he discussed the need for “open, free, and fair markets with the Saudis.”
OPEC members and 10 other oil producing nations, including Russia, on Friday agreed to cut output by 1.2 million barrels a day from January in a bid to reverse recent falls in prices.
The decision came even as US President Donald Trump demanded that the cartel boost output in order to push prices down.
But Al-Falih shrugged off the pressure last week, saying “we don’t need permission from anyone to cut” production.
The US “is not in a position to tell us what to do,” he told reporters ahead of Friday’s OPEC meeting in Vienna.
Last week, for the first time in decades, the United States — which is not a member of OPEC — was a net exporter of crude oil and petroleum products.
It was the latest sign of how the shale boom has lifted the US standing on global petroleum markets, prompting talk of “energy dominance” by Trump.
Perry’s visit to Dhahran came as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled state oil giant Aramco’s plan for a new energy megaproject in the area known as the King Salman Energy Park (SPARK).
The energy park is expected to attract an initial investment of $1.6 billion, Aramco said.