By SM.17 Feb, 2018
NEW DELHI: The ministry of external affairs on Friday suspended the passports of billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi and his uncle and business partner Mehul Choksi for four weeks with immediate effect and said it would revoke the passports if it did not hear from them in the next seven days on why their passports should not be impounded or revoked.
The government also announced a multi-agency probe into Modi"s dealings and the I-T department swung into action, provisionally attaching 29 properties and 105 accounts linked to Modi and his family, even as he surfaced at a luxurious hotel suite in New York. Meanwhile, more media reports emerged of the possibility of Modi having Belgian papers, as first indicated in reports on February 16.
"After suspension of his passport, he cannot move to a different location. Wherever he is, he will remain in the same country," the MEA spokesperson said. Modi is accused of triggering a Rs 11,300 crore fraud on state-run Punjab National Bank.
By suspending his passport, the government hopes to ground Modi in the US. However, the move may come to naught if Modi acquired Belgian papers after getting his India passport, or already had them but concealed the fact from authorities while applying for an Indian passport (given that he grew up in Antwerp). In either case, he would face action for fraud. Even if he has Belgian papers, he can be extradited, though it would complicate the process of bringing him to justice.
Asked if the government knew of Modi"s whereabouts, the MEA spokesperson said, "The gentleman is not in touch with any of our officers and we don"t know his location." However, TV channels traced him to a swish 36th-floor suite at JW Marriott"s Essex House (his boutique store is right around the corner at 734 Madison Avenue). Modi spent the day holed up in the suite, which overlooks New York"s famed Central Park.
Meanwhile, the government unleashed at least half-a-dozen agencies as part of a crackdown on Modi. The tax department attached 29 properties and over 100 bank accounts linked to Modi and his family. Separately, the Enforcement Directorate intensified its searches at 35 premises and recovered assets of another Rs 500 crore, taking the stated value of seizures so far to over Rs 5,600 crore.
In North Block, finance secretary Hasmukh Adhia huddled with investigative agencies such as ED, Serious Frauds Investigation Office, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and the Financial Intelligence Unit as well as heads of the direct and indirect tax wings. The agencies have been asked to swiftly act against the accused entities and take coordinated action, sources told TOI. The corporate affairs ministry has identified around 150 "shell companies" to be investigated.
Based on an earlier raid, the income tax department was the first off the block and provisionally attached properties and bank accounts. The list of properties includes six apartments jointly owned by Nirav and his wife Ami, a US citizen, who is also named in the FIR lodged by CBI. In addition, properties in Pune, Delhi, Jaipur and Surat that are on the list include those owned by Modi, Firestar International, Stellar Diamond, Solar Exports and Diamond R US. Notices were pasted across Nirav Modi stores and boutiques.
Sources said notices have also been issued for attempting to evade tax under section 271 C(1) of the I-T Act, which carries a maximum jail term of seven years. Further, the tax department has found overseas assets, which were not disclosed, and notices under the overseas black money law have also been issued.
Simultaneously, in a case involving Choksi"s Gitanjali Gems, the CBI raided 32 locations of the firm across the country, as well as premises of 36 subsidiaries, and residences of the company"s directors. It also sought Interpol"s help in nabbing Modi.