Mehul Choksi – the main accused in Rs 11,300 crore bank fraud along with his nephew Nirav Modi — was known as “Pappu” among diamond traders. It was a nickname he had from his growing years in Palanpur, a small town in Gujarat. The man, who started as a trader in Mumbai, went on to own 22 companies and became a regular in Bollywood circuit – unusual for diamond merchants, who prefer to keep a low profile.
Insiders say he threw grand parties and gave expensive gifts to buy favours. His style was to sign retainership agreements with families and close acquaintances of people in power, said Hardik Hundiya, the editor of Heera Manik Patrika, an industry publication.
As the investigation into the case broadens, probe agencies are now focusing on the directors of Mehul Choksi’s multi-crore companies. The First Information Report filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation names 10 directors of his companies, accused of fraud to the tune of ₹4800 crore.
But the officials say they found that most of these top executives live in slums and decrepit buildings, which suggests that they are just fronts for Mehul Choksi’s businesses. Visiting some of their homes, NDTV found men and woman who live very ordinary lives, far from the glamorous worlds of celebrity jewellers.
Dinesh Bhatia, whom the FIR describes as a director in Gitanjali Gems Ltd, lives in a decrepit room of a slum in central Mumbai’s Kalbadevi area. His family said he had no clue what he was in for, when he was asked to sign some papers by his bosses.
Another director, Mihir Joshi, lives in far-flung Dahisar in suburban Mumbai. Neighbours say he is just in his 20s and this was his first job. “Mihir is very tense and hasn’t been eating well. He refuses to go out of his house and has been constantly crying,” Mihir Joshi’s neighbour Mohan told NDTV.
Jyoti Bharat Vora, said to be a director in Nakshatra, lives in a cramped matchbox apartment in Hill Rock society in Amboli, located in the western suburbs of the city. The residents say it was home to middle-class people with hardly any business connections and they were under the impression that the woman did a regular job.
At the home of Aniyath Shivraman, located in a slum, NDTV found a tenant who refused to speak. Mr Shivraman, who lives nearby, is being interrogated by income tax authorities. His family members, who refused to come on camera, said he is an accountant in the company. But Gitanjali gave him the designation of a director.