A billionaire Indian diamond jeweller who has made pieces for Kate Winslet and Naomi Watts is being sought by police over his role in an alleged scam that has cost one of India’s largest banks nearly £1.3bn.
A global manhunt has been launched by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for Nirav Modi, who was estimated to be worth almost £1.3bn in 2017 and has appeared on the World’s Billionaires and Forbes’ 100 Richest Indians lists for several years.
More than half a dozen luxury cars including a Rolls Royce Ghost and a Porsche Panamera have been seized from the billionaire and his companies by investigators, along with around £625,000 worth of jewellery, gold, diamonds, precious metals and stones.
India’s Enforcement Directorate, which investigates foreign exchange and money laundering offences, confirmed on Twitter that along with the cars and valuables, it had frozen shares and mutual funds worth 78m rupees (£862,000) held by Mr Modi and 867.2m rupees (£9.6m) held by his uncle, Mehul Choksi.
The suspected fraud saw the jeweller’s companies and others with links to Mr Choksi allegedly target India’s second-largest state-run lender, the Punjab National Bank (PNB).
The bank claims Mr Modi’s firms illegally obtained letters of undertaking from it and used them to secure loans from overseas branches of other, mostly Indian, banks.
A dozen people have been arrested so far – six high-level employees from the PNB and six more from Mr Modi and Mr Choksi’s companies.
Mr Modi’s lawyer and Mr Choksi’s firm, Gitanjali Gems, have both denied any involvement in what is being called the biggest banking scam India has ever seen.
The whereabouts of the jeweller, who has not been charged yet, is not known, but he was last pictured publicly at the World Economic Forum in Davos with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
His lawyer says Mr Modi, who calls himself a “haute diamantaire”, has not absconded but is abroad on business.
Authorities have moved to revoke his passport.
The investigation began earlier this month when the PNB filed a criminal complaint against Modi and his associates, claiming the “wrongful loss” of an estimated $40m (£28.6m), but that rapidly mushroomed to £1.3bn, allegedly due to hundreds of fraudulent transactions carried out since 2011.
The group is also facing claims of financial impropriety and the thousands of employees of Mr Modi’s and Mr Choksi’s brand Gitanjali were recently told via email that they should look for new jobs and that they would not be paid.
The news has prompted protests against Mr Modi and the government in parts of India.