Absconding Debtor and Diamond businessman Nirav Modi, a key accused in the $2 billion PNB (Punjab National Bank) fraud case, cannot return to India as he is afraid of “getting lynched” and is being compared to demon ‘Ravan’, his lawyer told a special court on Saturday.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED), however, dismissed the claim, saying if he felt there were “security threats”, he should have filed a police complaint.
Modi’s lawyer Vijay Agarwal made the statement while arguing before Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court Judge M.S. Azmi against the ED’s application to declare Modi a fugitive under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act.
Countering the ED’s plea, Modi also said through his lawyer that he had no record or data with him about his finances.
Referring to Modi’s claims of “security threats” in India, the ED said these points were “irrelevant” to the case. It has claimed that he had refused to join the probe despite acknowledging mails and summons issued to him and that he doesn’t want to return to India.
Agarwal, however, said the diamond trader had responded to the emails sent by the investigating agencies and expressed his inability to return due to “security threats.”
“In a letter addressed to both the CBI and the ED, Modi had stated that he was not able to join the probe because of security threats [in India] from private persons, the families of those who have been detained [in the PNB case], landlords, the creditors who have not been paid and the customers whose jewellery were taken away by the ED,” he said.
“My client’s [Modi’s] 50 feet tall effigy was burnt in India. There was evidence of a mob lynching [against me] and I [Modi] was being compared with ‘Ravan’. I have been projected as evil and being made the poster boy of the bank fraud,” said Agarwal.
He also claimed that Modi cannot be declared a fugitive as various legal requirements stipulated by the Act have not been met by the investigating agency.
“The main reason the ED is seeking to declare Modi a fugitive is that he left India under suspicious circumstances on January 1, 2018. However, there was no criminal case [against him] when he had left the country,” he said.
“They cannot just say that he left the country under suspicious circumstances. They need to specify what those suspicions were. Also, there is no material on record to say that he is refusing to return to India,” he said.
‘Unlike liquor baron Vijay Mallya, who is accused of a loan default of over ₹9.000 crore, Modi had no Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) when he left the country, Modi’s lawyer argued.
He said that being a (jewellery) designer, Modi was a sort of an “artist” who cannot provide any financial information as desired by the ED.
“All my [Modi] finances were taken care of by my employees who are already in the custody of the investigating agency. I have no record or data. What are they going to investigate with me, as they have taken away all my source of information,” lawyer said.
Countering Agarwal’s submission, ED counsel Hiten Venegaonkar said all these arguments have nothing to do with the Act.
“As far as security threats are concerned, any prudent person who is fearing threats to his life needs to file a police complaint. Until now, there is no material before the ED or the court (about any such complaint). So these points are irrelevant,” he said.
As per the investigating agencies, Modi and his uncle, Mehul Choksi, in connivance with certain bank officials, allegedly cheated the PNB to the tune of Rs 14,000 crore through issuance of fraudulent Letters of Undertaking (LoUs).
These LoUs were allegedly issued in a fraudulent manner by a Mumbai branch of the PNB to the group of companies belonging to Modi since March 2011 till the case came to light.
In July, Choksi had also cited the “mob lynching” trend in India as one of the main reasons for not returning.
The Interpol had issued a Red Corner Notice against Modi, his brother Neeshal and sister Purvi — both Belgian citizens — as well as Mihir Bhansali and Aditya Nanvati, his close associates.
However, an RCN request against Choksi, who acquired Antiguan citizenship earlier in 2018, is pending with the Interpol.