CBI tightens screws on NiMo, Choksi..Fresh FIR shows bigger fraud

New Delhi, Feb 16: The CBI today registered a fresh FIR against the Gitanjali Group promoted by Mehul Choksi, uncle of billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi, following a complaint from Punjab National Bank, and also approached the Interpol to locate Modi and Choksi. Officials said the fresh FIR was based on a complaint from the PNB dated February 13. According to it, the alleged loss to PNB was over Rs 4,886 crore, they said.

“CBI has registered an FIR against Gitanjali group of companies of Mehul Choksi based on a complaint of PNB dated 13 February, 2018. In this case, the alleged loss to PNB is estimated at Rs4,886.72 crore (which is part of the total Rs11,400 crore fraud amount). Three companies of Choksi named in the FIR are — Gitanjali Gems, Gili India and Nakshatra Brand Ltd. The fresh FIR involves 143 Letters of Understanding (LoU) and 224 foreign letters of credit, which are separate from the earlier 150 LoUs mentioned in the FIR filed on 31 January,” senior unnamed CBI official was quoted as saying.

The new FIR details involvement of PNB officials in the fraud. “Accused PNB officials (Gokulnath Shetty and Manoj Kharat) in conspiracy with private persons sent unauthorised LoUs and foreign letters of credit to overseas branches of Indian banks for release of funds to accused companies’ suppliers or to clear liabilities of accused companies,” the unnamed CBI official added.

The CBI also carried out searches on the premises of the Gitanjali Group at 20 places in Mumbai, Pune, Surat, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Coimbatore. “Searches are at locations belonging to Gitanjali group of Mehul Choksy, other directors of the accused companies and other group factories and plants including offices, factories and residences,” a CBI spokesperson said.

The officials also said the central agency approached the Interpol with a request for issuing Diffusion Notice which was aimed at locating an individual.

“This (diffusion) is less formal than a notice but is also used to request the arrest or location of an individual or additional information in relation to a police investigation. A diffusion is circulated directly by an NCB (CBI in this case) to the member countries of their choice, or to the entire INTERPOL membership and is simultaneously recorded in Interpol’s Information System,” the website of Interpol says.

The CBI was confident about getting a location of Modi and his family by today, they said.

Modi, who was alleged to have carried out fraudulent transactions worth over Rs 11,400 crore in PNB, had left the country in the first week of January.

The 46-year old, who holds an Indian passport, left India on January 1, while his brother Nishal, a Belgian citizen, departed from the country on same day.

However, whether they travelled together has to be probed, they said.

Modi’s wife Ami, a US citizen, left on January 6 and his business Mehul Choksi left on January 4, the officials said.

The CBI and the Enforcement Directorate have approached the government seeking revocation of passports of Modi and Choksi.

The billionaire diamond merchant, a regular on the lists of rich and famous Indians since 2013, was booked by the CBI, along with wife, brother and Choksi on January 31, for allegedly cheating the state-run PNB to the tune of Rs 280 crore.

The bank again approached the CBI within a fortnight of the first complaint giving details of more transactions which were over Rs 11,400 crore.

The question as to why the PNB did not send a complaint to the CBI and decided to give it in tranches is also under the scanner of the agency, they said.

The bank has claimed in three complaints to the CBI that so far it has detected 150 Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) which were fraudulently issued by its officials in connivance with Modi and the other accused in the case, the officials said.

An LoU is a letter of comfort issued by one bank to branches of other banks, based on which foreign branches offer credit to buyers.