Lender accuses billionaire jeweller to stars of involvement

MUMBAI • Billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi - who has dressed stars including Kate Winslet and Priyanka Chopra - is accused by India's second-largest state lender of involvement in a multi-billion dollar fraud, said people familiar with the matter.

Punjab National Bank (PNB) filed a complaint with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) two weeks ago alleging that Mr Modi and companies linked to him fraudulently acquired PNB guarantees worth 100 billion rupees (S$2 billion) that they later used to obtain loans from abroad, the people said, asking not to be identified.

The bank alleged that Mr Modi worked with junior PNB officials to get the letters, the sources said.

It told the exchanges on Wednesday - without naming anyone - that a US$1.77 billion (S$2.3 billion) fraud was detected at a single branch in Mumbai.

It also made fresh allegations against Mr Modi to the CBI, according to the Press Trust of India.

Mr Modi, who has not commented on the case so far, could not be reached for comment. His flagship Firestar Diamond says it has no involvement in the case.

Mr Modi grew up in Antwerp in Belgium and is the son and grandson of diamond traders, according to his website. The 47-year-old is the founder of jewellery giant Firestar Diamond while his high-end Nirav Modi brand has stores in some of the world's major cities including New York, London, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

He is worth US$1.73 billion according to Forbes, placing him 85th on India's rich list.

Hollywood A-lister Kate Winslet wore Mr Modi's creations at the 2016 Oscars and said he had donated to her foundation. Last year, Mr Modi signed Priyanka Chopra - one of India's best-known actors - as his brand ambassador.

The alleged fraud came to light when Mr Modi's companies sought a fresh loan last month. By then, the PNB official they had allegedly been working with had retired, according to PNB's complaint.

Since there was no sanctioned limit in the name of Mr Modi's firms, PNB said it asked for 100 per cent cash margin to issue the letters of understanding.

When Mr Modi's companies insisted that they had used the facility before, PNB said it started investigations.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2018, with the headline 'Lender accuses billionaire jeweller to stars of involvement'. Print Edition | Subscribe