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After Nirav Modi, kin fled India, US firm gave them Rs 50 crore via credit cards: probe

Khushboo Narayan
Fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi. (Facebook: Nirav Modi jewels)

A New York-based firm may have helped fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi and his family access funds even as their accounts were frozen by domestic and foreign banks after the Rs 13,600-crore fraud at the Punjab National Bank came to light in January 2018.

Saumil Diam LLC, a company that has links to both Nirav Modi and his maternal uncle Mehul Choksi, accused of fraudulent transactions at PNB, allegedly allowed Nirav Modi and his kin the use of its corporate credit cards, sources told The Indian Express. They said Modi and his family spent around Rs 50 crore through these cards between March and October 2018. Modi and Choksi left India in January 2018, weeks before the scam came to light. While Modi is in the UK and is said to have started a new jewellery business, Choksi has become a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda and is learnt to be residing there.

Saumil Diam, according to an investigation report of the Examiner appointed by the US bankruptcy court to probe Choksi's Samuels Jewelers, was used by Choksi to allegedly "launder funds". The report said more than $180 million (Rs 1,257 crore) of the funds originating from fraudulent Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) was allegedly routed by Saumil Diam to entities controlled by Choksi and Modi.

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For instance, between 2016 and 2017, Saumil allegedly routed LoU funds of over Rs 800 crore to Gitanjali Gems Ltd alone. In 2017, Saumil allegedly received about Rs 50 crore from Modi-controlled Sino Traders Ltd in Hong Kong and in the same period transferred Rs 64 crore to Modi's flagship firm Firestar International Pvt Ltd.

The report also said that in 2016, Saumil Diam was also used to route money for repayment of matured foreign letters of credit (FLCs) of various financial institutions that lent to Modi and Choksi.

Saumil Diam, a diamond and jewellery firm, is owned by Mitesh Kothari. The investigation report by the US Examiner said the firm had only one employee and a limited online presence with no company website.

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In a February 2019 interview with the Examiner, John J Carney, Kothari said his firm had sales of over $100 million (Rs 690 crore) a year. However, Kothari, the Examiner's report said, was "unable to answer the majority of questions" about the firm's relationship with Choksi-controlled firms. According to the bankruptcy filings of Modi's Firestar Diamond Inc. in the US court, Saumil Diam has been listed as a creditor of the company. Chris Gilbert, lawyer representing Saumil Diam in the US, said: "Saumil Diam states that the company did business with Samuels Jewelers in Texas in 2014 and 2015 which totaled $5,978,061 (US). From 2016 until today, Saumil Diam has done no business with Samuels Jewelers. At no point, has Saumil Diam provided credit cards, either personal or business, to any member of the Modi family or Mehul Choksi. Saumil Diam does not understand these allegations or on what evidence they are based but states that they are completely false."