Nirav Modi (circled red) and others with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Davos, Switzerland, on January 23, 2018. On Nirav’s left is SBI chairman Rajnish Kumar. Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted on Thursday: “Guide to looting India — by Nirav Modi. 1. Hug PM Modi 2. Be seen with him in Davos. Use that Clout to A. Steal Rs 12000 crore B. Slip out of the country like Mallya, while the Government looks the other way.” Rahul used the hashtag “#From1Modi2another”
New Delhi: The corruption cudgel with which Narendra Modi has bludgeoned his opponents threatened to swing the other way on Thursday as the Nirav Modi scandal threw up an arresting picture and a smoking-gun letter.
The photograph shows Nirav, Narendra Modi and a host of industrialists and chief executives in Davos. The photograph was taken on January 23, six days before Punjab National Bank (PNB) approached the CBI with a complaint that the celebrity diamantaire and associates had defrauded the state-run bank of Rs 280 crore.
Since then, the figure has ballooned past Rs 11,000 crore, making the scandal one of the largest in the country.
A family portrait at summits is commonplace. But Narendra Modi and the BJP - who have placed themselves at the pinnacle of propriety and hanged many a corruption accused even before courtroom trials - found it difficult to digest the fact that the Prime Minister was probably one of the last Indians to meet Nirav before the scam blew up.
As jokes began to fly about "NiMo" (Nirav Modi) and "NaMo" (Narendra Modi) as well as "Finding NiMo" (Nirav has left the country), the BJP scrambled to seek solace in the timeline, pointing out that when the picture was taken, there was no complaint against Nirav.
But the Congress made public a letter sent as far back as on July 26, 2016, to the Prime Minister's Office, alleging fraudulent activities involving thousands of crores of rupees by Mehul Choksi, the managing director of Gitanjali Gems, and its "various subsidiary/sister companies".
The letter, written by a purported franchisee of Gitanjali, alleged: "This company is involved in siphoning out of Rs 1000s of crores of Indian public money through various subsidiary companies floated in India and fictitious companies abroad."
The letter had attached a list of 31 banks that allegedly extended "huge" loans to the group with "meagre assets". It put the cumulative loan amount at Rs 9,872 crore.
The letter did not mention Nirav. But Choksi is the maternal uncle of Nirav and he once played mentor to the younger diamantaire.
Although Choksi has tried to distance himself from Nirav, PNB has directly linked the alleged activities of the uncle and the nephew. "There is clear connivance of group companies of Nirav Modi and Gitanjali Gems with our branch official and also apparently with officials of overseas branches of Indian banks," PNB said in a letter to 32 banks.
The letter to the PMO was written by S.V. Hari Prasad, based in Bangalore. In the documents attributed to Prasad and made public by the Congress, 42 purported cases filed against Choksi have been listed. One relates to a rent dispute between Prasad and Choksi.
Prasad, who got an acknowledgement from the PMO, later told The Telegraph that he approached the high office only after he failed to get a positive response from the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate.
The Congress wondered how Nirav managed to leave India when the government and the PMO had been alerted to the fraud much in advance.
Recalling how Lalit Modi and Vijay Mallya escaped, Congress communications chief Randeep Surjewala said: "Why did the Prime Minister not take any action to protect the interests of the banking sector despite a written complaint having been received and acknowledged on July 26, 2016? Why were all the authorities, including the finance ministry, its financial intelligence units and all other authorities sleeping on their job?"
Surjewala added: "Had the PMO ordered an FIR at that time, the entire fraud would have been exposed much earlier and Nirav Modi would not have been able to escape."
He cited figures in the letter to suggest a still larger scam. "What the government has not told us is that there is also an exposure of Rs 9,872 crore of various banks with Gitanjali Gems. This is the biggest bank scam of independent India involving around Rs 30,000 crore. Banks other than PNB, like SBI, Axis, Union Bank, Allahabad Bank, Bank of Baroda, Canara, Andhra, ICICI, etc are affected."
Asked about the allegation that the scam had started in 2011 during the UPA regime, Surjewala said: "That is a diversionary tactic.... Is it not a fact that a letter of understanding (LoU) has to be encashed within 90 days? Did the Modi government come into being only 90 days ago? What were they doing for four years? The PNB complaint mentions that eight LoUs worth crores were issued between February 9 and February 14, 2017."
Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted: "Guide to looting India - by Nirav Modi. 1. Hug PM Modi 2. Be seen with him in Davos. Use that Clout to A. Steal Rs 12000 crore B. Slip out of the country like Mallya, while the Government looks the other way."
Rubbing salt into the wound, Rahul used the hashtag "#From1Modi2another".