Modi accused of playing a central role in a $1.8-billion fraud

MUMBAI: The remains of the structure of Nirav Modi’s mansion are seen in Alibaug, off Mumbai coast yesterday. Indian authorities dynamited the multi-million-dollar seafront mansion of fugitive billionaire and jeweler to the stars Nirav Modi. —AFP

MUMBAI: Indian authorities on Friday dynamited the multi-million-dollar seafront mansion of fugitive billionaire and jeweler to the stars Nirav Modi, officials said. The 33,000 square-foot property near Mumbai, believed to be worth $14 million, was seized after Modi was accused of involvement in a massive bank fraud that rocked India’s corporate community. “We have razed the structure to the ground using dynamite,” Bharat Shitole, an official for government of the western state of Maharashtra said.

Video footage aired by Indian news channels showed the sprawling bungalow crumble to the ground within seconds of the controlled blast. Modi, 48, owned luxury jewelry stores in several major cities across the world and boasted celebrity customers including actresses Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet and Priyanka Chopra-Jonas before his downfall last year. He fled India in February 2018 after being accused of playing a central role in a $1.8-billion fraud involving Punjab National Bank (PNB), the country’s second-largest public lender.

Modi and his uncle and business partner Mehul Choksi, also a diamond merchant, allegedly defrauded PNB out of more than $40 million. Authorities say the pair diverted large sums of the loan money illegally to invest in foreign companies. Choksi fled to Antigua while the Financial Times reported last June that Modi was in Britain. Indian authorities have seized assets of Modi worth around $90 million including his jewelry business, overseas bank accounts, a London property worth around $7.8 million and two others in New York valued at $29 million.

Shitole said authorities decided to demolish the seaside mansion rather than put it up for auction because it was illegally built and had violated environmental regulations. Forbes estimated Modi’s wealth at $1.73 billion before the alleged fraud, placing him 85th on India’s rich list. Modi is not the only Indian billionaire facing heat from authorities. Vijay Mallya, a business tycoon who until recently owned a Formula One team, left India in 2016 after authorities filed money-laundering charges against him. He is currently fighting extradition from Britain.- AFP