Fugitive Indian jeweller Modi arrested in London, denied bail over alleged bank fraud

Indian supporters of the Congress Party protest against billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi in New Delhi on Feb 16, 2018. Modi is one of the main suspects charged in a US$2 billion (S$2.70 billion) loan fraud at state-run Punjab National Bank. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Nirav Modi, who allegedly defrauded an Indian state-run bank of US$2 billion (S$2.70 billion), was denied bail by a London judge who said there were "substantial risks" that the celebrity jeweller could flee while the country seeks his extradition.

UK police arrested Modi on Tuesday at the request of Indian authorities as he opened a bank account.

The tycoon, who dressed stars including Kate Winslet, Dakota Johnson and Priyanka Chopra, faces charges of fraudulently acquiring guarantees from Punjab National Bank that were later used to obtain loans from abroad, according to complaints filed by the lender.

Judge Marie Mallon made the ruling in a London court on Wednesday (March 20), after Modi, wearing a white button down shirt and black trousers, said he would fight extradition.

"He very strongly contests the allegations," Modi's lawyer, Mr George Hepburne Scott, told the judge.

A preliminary hearing in Modi's extradition case was set for March 29.

Extraditing Modi, and other tycoons including Vijay Mallya, a colourful beer baron who now lives in London after an airline he owned defaulted on US$1.3 billion in loans, is becoming an election issue for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who's no relation to Nirav.

Prosecuting wealthy individuals accused of breaking the law could boost the Prime Minister's image ahead of polls due to start next month.

Mallya and Nirav Modi deny the allegations.

"It's a success" for the Prime Minister's "efforts in catching defaulters'' said political analyst and professor of political science Harish Ramaswamy of Karnataka University. "Congress is losing issues and will have to be defensive. It will go in BJP's favour.''

Modi had been in touch with the authorities to arrange to turn himself in at a London police station next week, Mr Hepburne Scott said.

However, when he went to open a bank account on Tuesday, an employee at the branch alerted authorities, triggering the arrest, he said.

Modi grew up in Antwerp, the son and grandson of diamantaires, according to his website.

Apart from India, he had boutiques in cities including New York, London, Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Kate Winslet had worn Modi's creations at the 2016 Oscars. In 2017, Modi had signed up Priyanka Chopra - star of the US TV series Quantico - as his brand ambassador.

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