In first such order passed under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act (FEOA), a special court here on Monday allowed attachment and confiscation of assets owned by diamantaire Nirav Modi, a key accused in the multi- crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam. Special Judge V C Barde permitted the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to confiscate those assets owned by Modi under the Fugitive Economic Offender Act that are not mortgaged or hypothecated to the PNB.
The court, in its order, said the assets shall be attached by the ED under the provisions of the FEO Act within one month. After that, the said properties/assets shall stand confiscated to the Central government under section 12(2) and 8 of the FEO Act, it said.
This is the first order of asset confiscation passed under the FEO Act, enacted two years ago, anywhere in the country. Senior advocate Nitesh Jain from Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas law firm, who appeared for PNB, said the court has allowed those assets, that have not been mortgaged, secured or hypothecated to the bank, to be attached and confiscated.
The special court, however, did not permit the ED to attach the paintings owned by Modi and seized by the Income Tax department as the Bombay High Court had earlier directed for the artworks to be auctioned but the money to be deposited and not disbursed. The special court said the ED was at liberty to pursue legal remedies with respect to the paintings seized by the Income Tax department. Modi (49), currently lodged in a UK jail, was declared a fugitive economic offender in December last by the court.
He was arrested in London in March 2019 and is presently fighting extradition to India, where he faces charges of fraud and money laundering in connection with the multi-crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam. The jeweller was the second person to be declared a fugitive under the FEO Act after beleaguered businessman Vijay Mallya, who is also in the UK. The FEO Act is aimed at deterring economic offenders from evading the law by remaining outside the jurisdiction of Indian courts.
The law seeks to expedite the recovery of losses incurred by banks and other entities by confiscating the properties of the offender. After Modi was declared a fugitive economic offender, the ED had requested the court to issue an order for confiscation of all properties, belonging directly or indirectly to him, both in India and abroad.
The ED had registered two cases of money laundering against Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi, also a jeweller and another accused in the scam, on the basis of an FIR lodged against them by the CBI in January last year. The CBI had alleged that the duo had cheated PNB in connivance with certain bank officials by fraudulently getting Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) issued to their three firms without any collateral and without following prescribed procedure, and caused wrongful loss to the bank.