Nirav Modi used ‘worst expletives’, threatened to bump off witnesses in £1.5-billion fraud case


Nirav Modi (File photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint via Getty Images)
Nirav Modi (File photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint via Getty Images)

A VIDEO of “dummy directors” associated with companies linked to Nirav Modi has been submitted in Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London as evidence of the “coercion and threats” the fugitive diamantaire allegedly deployed in the course of fraud and money laundering.

The court was hearing the extradition case — later adjourned to September — against 49-year-old Modi, who is wanted in India for £1.5-billion bank fraud.

A group of six Indian men can be heard on the video recording played  during the partially remote trial this week, with each of them making allegations of being forced to move from Dubai to Cairo, where they allegedly had been made to forfeit their passports and sign dubious documents against their will by the diamond merchant’s brother, Nehal Modi.

“My name is Ashish Kumar Mohanbhai Lad, I am the namesake owner of Sunshine Gems Limited, Hong Kong, and Unity Trading Fze, Dubai,” said one of the men in a recording from June 2018.

“Nirav Modi phoned me and told me that he would implicate me for theft. He used the worst expletives… told me that he would get me killed… he did so much to us.” he added in Hindi.

The other “dummy directors” in the video submitted by the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation included Rushabh Jethwa (the namesake owner of Empire Gems FZE in Sharjah) Sonu Mehta (Auragem Company Limited, Hong Kong), Shreedhar Mayekar (Unique Diamond and Jewellery, Azman), and Nileshkumar Balwantrai (Mistry Hamilton Precious Traders Limited, Dubai).

Speaking in a mix of Hindi and Gujarati, they could be heard saying that they were recording the video because they feared for their safety, as they were held against their will and not allowed to return to India.

“We signed the document because they threatened not to give back our passports until we sign,” said Jethwa.

These witnesses relate to the Indian Enforcement Directorate (ED) discovery that dummy directors/owners/managers had been appointed in a number of overseas companies under Modi’s direct control.

According to the government of India, a number of Punjab National Bank staff conspired with Modi to ensure Letters of Understanding were issued to these companies without following mandatory checks and guidelines.

Modi claimed to have come to the UK ahead of a planned initial public offering (IPO), but an Interpol Red Notice was issued against him. He was soon traced to a plush rented apartment at Centre Point in central London early last year.

An extradition request from the Indian government was certified by the UK Home Office in February last year before his arrest by Scotland Yard on March 19, 2019.

Modi has been behind bars at Wandsworth Prison in south-west London since then, failing to get bail despite repeated attempts.

A second extradition request, relating to “causing the disappearance of evidence” and intimidating witnesses or “criminal intimidation to cause death”, was also certified earlier this year.

While the hearing to establish a prima facie case against Modi is ongoing in London this week, the extradition trial will conclude only in September once the second part of the case and the defence arguments against prison conditions at Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai are heard.

The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), presenting the arguments in court on behalf of the Indian authorities, has sought to establish a pattern of dishonest behaviour on the part of Modi when he acquired the LoUs and also in their dispersal across a complex worldwide empire.

Modi’s defence team have claimed a paucity of evidence to prove dishonesty and also questioned the admissibility of some of the evidence.

A ruling in the extradition hearing to establish whether Modi has a case to answer in the Indian courts and that there are no human rights barriers to him being extradited to India is expected only after the second hearing in the case in September