Diamantaire-turned-fugitive Nirav Modi, accused of masterminding the over $2 billion fraud that rocked the Punjab National Bank (PNB), had reportedly holed up in a flat just above his jewellery store in London's posh Mayfair area during his stay in the country.
The 47-year-old has been on the run since January. He has since been spotted in Dubai, Hong Kong, Belgium, New York and London. Earlier this month a visiting United Kingdom delegation had confirmed that Modi was in their country.In fact, the diamantaire had been able to travel in and out of Britain at least four times since his passport was cancelled by the Indian authorities in February, according to The Sunday Times. On February 23, the Indian authorities revoked Modi's passport, contacting Interpol and the UK government soon after.
But official records reveal Modi travelled from Heathrow Airport to Hong Kong on March 15, and from New York to Heathrow Airport on March 28. Three days later, he flew from London to Paris. Then, on June 12, Modi is thought to have boarded the Eurostar train from London to Brussels, the newspaper claims, adding that unconfirmed reports claim Modi has applied for asylum in the UK.
The report added that while in London, he was living in the heart of the city above his jewellery boutique called "Nirav Modi" on Old Bond Street, which was closed last week.
"Why are they always ending up in London? It's as if the UK is a safe haven," the newspaper quoted an Indian official as saying. In a statement released by the Home Ministry after Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju met the Minister of State for Countering Extremism in UK's Home Office, Baroness Williams earlier this month, the MoS had conveyed to the visiting delegation that Britain should not be viewed as a safe haven for men wanted by the law of the other country for various offences.
The newspaper cautioned that the fact that Modi has been using Britain as a "safe haven" threatens to damage diplomatic ties between India and the UK and further scupper prospects of a post-Brexit trade deal.
The UK Home Office and Border Force declined to discuss individual cases but said in a statement that "All passengers attempting to enter the UK are subject to checks by Border Force officers to identify people of concern". It added that the "Border Force works with international partners to ensure the most up-to-date information is available".
Letter Rogatories (LRs) in the cases lodged against Modi by the Enforcement Directorate, the CBI and the Income Tax Department were sent to the UK Central Authority (UKCA) on March 19, April 14 and April 15, respectively. LRs are requests from a court of one sovereign nation to a court of another sovereign nation for judicial assistance.
The UKCA has forwarded these LRs to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) for execution and conveyed that action would be taken on implementation of the ED LR. The ED and the SFO have since entered discussions on the way forward.
In the meantime, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), India's revenue intelligence agency, yesterday served an arrest warrant to Modi via email in a case of alleged customs duty evasion.
In March, the DRI had launched prosecution against Modi and three of his firms - Firestar International Pvt Ltd, Firestar Diamond International Pvt Ltd and Radashir Jewellery Co Pvt Ltd, based in the Special Economic Zone, Surat - for allegedly diverting high-value diamonds and pearls worth Rs 890 crore, involving customs duty of Rs 52 crore.
According to the norms, duty-free import of goods by the units located in the SEZ is permitted only if they are to be used as raw material and are exported after value addition or processing, but Modi allegedly sold it all in the open market. According to officials, to evade import duty, he exported low-quality diamonds and pearls and claimed that these were the ones imported and then processed.
After the launch of prosecution in the case, the court of chief judicial magistrate, Surat, issued summonses against Modi. But neither he nor his representative appeared before the court on specified dates, said officials, so the arrest warrant was issued against him.
With PTI inputs