Mumbai: In a major development to the PNB fraud case, the Passport issuing authority in the Ministry of External Affairs has suspended validity of passports of billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi and his business partner and uncle Mehul Choksi with immediate effect for a period of four weeks on the advice of the Enforcement Directorate.
The two have been asked to respond within one week as to why their passports should not be impounded or revoked. If they fail to respond within the stipulated time, the foreign affairs ministry will go ahead with the revocation.
Earlier, the Interpol has issued diffusion notice against Nirav Modi, his wife Ami Modi, brother Nishal Modi and Mehul Choksi.
After almost 24 hours, raids continued at Nirav Modi's boutique in Kala Ghoda in Mumbai on Friday. It is alleged that Modi and his associate companies fraudulently acquired PNB guarantees worth USD 1.7 billion that they later used to obtain overseas loans.
The CBI has sought revocation of the passports of billionaire jewellery designer Nirav Modi and his partner Mehul Choksi who are the main accused in alleged fraudulent transactions of over Rs 11,400 crore through 150 letters of understanding issued by the Punjab National Bank, officials said.
The probe agency has also registered FIR against Mehul Choksi's Gitanjali Group of companies on the complaint of the Punjab National Bank dated 13 Feb, 2018. It has also said that the alleged loss to the state-owned bank is estimated at Rs 4886.72 crores.
The CBI is conducting searches at 20 premises in six cities across five states, belonging to Gitanjali Group & other directors of accused companies.
The raid is being conducted in Maharashtra's Mumbai and Pune, Gujarat's Surat, Rajasthan's Jaipur, Telangana's Hyderabad & Tamil Nadu's Coimbatore.
Meanwhile, PNB has suspended 8 more employees on Friday thereby taking the total number of suspended employees to 18, which also include General Manager level officers.
The bank also said that internal investigation into the matter is underway.
Nirav Modi, 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.
Nirav Modi's wife Ami, a US citizen, left on January 6 and his uncle and business partner Choksi, the promoter of Gitanjali jewellery chain, left on January 4, the officials said.
The delay in filing of complaint by the bank left limited options for the agency with one of them being revocation of proceedings, they said.
The bank claimed that it became suspicious only on January 16 when the accused companies --Diamond R US, Solar Exports and Stellar Diamonds (all accused in the CBI FIR) -- approached it with import documents and a request to issue Letters of Understanding (LoUs) for raising buyers' credit for making payments to the overseas suppliers.
The bank, however, could not find any past entries in the system, the FIR has alleged.
It approached the CBI on January 29 with a complaint of Rs 280 crore fraud, officials said.
Nirav Modi, who is believed to be in Switzerland, was also present in a group photograph of Indian CEOs with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, issued by the Press Information Bureau, during the World Economic Forum on January 23, six days before the bank sent its first complaint against him to the CBI, according to the officials.
The agency immediately swung into action, registering an FIR on January 31, followed by searches at 20 locations in Mumbai and Surat. It also issued a look out circular on February 4 against Nirav Modi and three absconding accused, they said.
A look out circular is issued by enforcement agencies to all exit and entry ports to inform them about the movement of an accused.
The CBI and the Enforcement Directorate moved separate applications with the external affairs ministry, seeking the revocation of passports of Modi and his Choksi.
Nirav Modi, a regular on the lists of rich and famous Indians since 2013, was booked by the CBI, along with wife, brother and business partner and Choksi on January 31, for allegedly cheating the state-run Punjab National Bank 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.
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.
The bank has claimed in three complaints to the CBI that so far it has detected 150 LoUs which were fraudulently issued by its officials in connivance with Nirav Modi and the other accused in the case, the officials said.
The agency is analysing the fresh complaints and will take a call whether to register fresh FIRs or expand the ambit of the existing FIR related to fraudulent transactions of worth Rs 280 crore, they said.
In these cases, the bank has alleged that the LOUs were issued to Hong Kong based branches of Allahabad and Axis bank, they said.
The PNB has claimed in the complaint that overseas branch of banks used the funds to clear their own liabilities, the officials said.
During searches conducted by the agency which included the residences of Nirav Modi and the other accused along with companies, the CBI recovered 95 crucial documents related to import bills, they said.
The agency has also seized computers and other digital devices and has completed mirror imaging of computers seized during the searches, the officials said.
(With PTI inputs)...