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.


Iran looms large over OPEC summit

Updated 22 September 2018
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Iran looms large over OPEC summit

  • Saudi Arabia only country in Mideast, and perhaps world, with enough capacity to keep market supplied, say experts
  • At Algiers, Opec and leading non-Opec countries are expected to discuss how to allocate supply increases to offset a shortage of Iran supplies

LONDON: The Opec summit in Algiers on Sunday meets amid widespread fears of a supply crunch when a forecast 1.4 million barrels a day of crude is lost from Iran in November when US sanctions kick in.
If, on top of that, more supply shocks hit the market in worse-than-expected disruption from Libya and Iraq, the price of crude could surge, said Andy Critchlow, head of energy news at S&P Global Platts. “At the moment, the market looks finely balanced,” he said.
There isn’t a lot of slack in the system. As Critchlow points out: “Upstream investment in infrastructure and new wells is historically low and it will take a long time to turn that around.”
At Algiers, Opec and leading non-Opec countries are expected to discuss how to allocate supply increases to offset a shortage of Iran supplies. The gathering comes after a tweet by President Trump on Sept. 20 calling on Opec to lower prices. He said on Twitter that “they would not be safe for very long without us, and yet they continue to push for a higher and higher oil price.”
Critchlow reckoned KSA still had spare capacity of about 2 million bpd. And KSA would get oil back as they go into winter as it had needed 800,000m bpd merely to generate electricity for the home market to meet heightened demand for air conditioning in the summer.
But there is uncertainty about what will come out of Algiers. For a start, the Iranians say they will not attend. That could be tricky in terms of an Opec communique at the end of the meeting as statements need unanimous support from member nations. And Iran has indicated it will veto any move that would affect Iran’s position, ie, one where other countries absorb its market share as sanctions bite.
Jason Gammel, energy analyst at London broker Jefferies, said: “The magnitude of the drop in Iranian exports is likely to be higher than any hit in demand as a result of problems linked to emerging market currencies, or trade wars. That’s why we expect oil prices to continue to strengthen. The Saudis and their partners will keep the market well supplied, and I think the issue is that the level of spare capacity in the system will be extremely low. Any threat or interruption will mean price spikes. Possibly by the end of the year demand will exceed supply; for now, the market remains in balance, but threats of supply disruption will bring volatility.”
Under the spotlight in Algiers is a production cuts accord forged by Opec and 11 other countries in 2016 which has been extended to the end of this year. The agreement helped reboot prices and obliterate inventory stockpiles that led to the crash in crude prices nearly three years ago. But how long will the agreement last? Algiers may kick that one into the long grass.
Thomson Reuters analysts Ehsan Ul-Haq and Tom Kenison told Arab News: “OPEC members would like to maintain cohesion within the group around supply ahead of Iran sanctions and declining Venezuela production, However, they are expected be in favor of maintaining stability in prices while doing so. On the other hand, they need to find a consensus around how their market share would be affected by a decision to pump more oil in the market. Any decision around production will likely be offset until the November meeting.”
Critchlow said that it is what KSA and Russia say and do that matters. “They speak for a fifth of the global oil market, producing a combined total of 22m bpd.” Together, they are the swing producers when it comes to crude production and supply.
Another factor about Algiers is that it is a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee, which is not a policy-making forum. Big policy statements may have to wait for the main Opec summit in Vienna at the end of year. That said, there will be some very high-level delegations in Algiers, including the Saudi oil minister and his Russian counterpart.
A statement about the demand picture could emerge, especially as there are fears about the impact on the global economy from the US-China tariff war.
Looking to the future, Critchlow thought the Opec production cuts accord would carry on into 2019. “Oil priced between $70/bbl and $80/bbl is a sweet spot for Middle East producers. Its’s good for Saudi as it helps stop further drainage of their foreign reserves and moves the budget back toward balance. Do they want (the price) to go higher? I think that would cause a lot of political problems for them.”