Indian celebrity jeweller flees to UK claiming political asylum
Nirav Modi is at centre of alleged $2bn bank fraud and wanted by Indian police
Nirav Modi has built one of India’s few truly international brands, but he has gone to ground Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) Save Save to myFT Kiran Stacey in New Delhi and Laura Hughes in London 8 HOURS AGO Print this page28 Nirav Modi, the Indian jeweller at the centre of an alleged $2bn bank fraud in his home country, has fled to the UK where he is claiming political asylum, according to officials in both countries. Indian police have been trying to track Mr Modi, whose jewellery has been worn by celebrities such as Kate Winslet and Priyanka Chopra, since February, when news broke of the alleged fraud at Punjab National Bank. The case has shaken confidence in India’s state-dominated banking sector. So far, they have been unable to find the renowned jeweller, but officials in India and the UK say he is in London, where his company has one store, and is trying to claim asylum from what he said was political persecution. Mr Modi could not be reached for comment. The presence of another Indian fugitive in Britain has the potential to cause further discord in an occasionally fractious relationship with India. New Delhi is also pushing for the forced return from London of the drinks baron Vijay Mallya, another Indian tycoon who has been accused of fraud — charges that he denies. It is also one more awkward case for the UK Home Office to handle, not long after Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch and owner of Chelsea football club, withdrew his application to renew his British visa after it was delayed. Recommended Analysis Banks How the alleged Punjab National Bank fraud unfolded One senior UK Foreign Office official said: “There are always a number of complicated cases that add a little tension and spice to our relationship with India. “But there is also an appreciation from both sides that we have a legal process that has to be gone through and that we are of course governed by human rights legislation.” Over the past few years, Mr Modi has built one of India’s few truly international brands, selling his luxury, western-style jewellery in India, London, New York and Hong Kong. But this February he went to ground after allegations broke that he and his uncle Mehul Choksi were among the main beneficiaries of an alleged fraud that cost the PNB $1.77bn. The pair are accused of taking out cash advances from Indian lenders on the basis of guarantees from the PNB, which had been issued without approval by junior managers. An Indian court has issued warrants for the arrest of both men, who are reported to have left India in early January. Authorities have also shut Mr Modi’s Indian shops, seized jewellery from his stores, frozen his Indian bank accounts and impounded his cars, including a Rolls-Royce and a Porsche. India’s foreign affairs ministry said the Indian government was waiting for the country’s law enforcement agencies to approach them before pushing for an extradition, which so far had not happened. The country’s enforcement directorate, which is pursuing the case, would not comment.