Even as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the CBI on Friday tightened the noose around billionaire diamantaire Nirav Modi, and ministry of external affairs rushed to suspended his passport, along with that of his co-accused and accomplice Mehul Choksi, after a TV channel tracked him down in New York, the raging political battle took a new twist with the Congress releasing a video in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is allegedly seen hosting Choksi at his official residence.
The raging controversy over Nirav Modi and Choksi, chairman and MD Gitanjali Group, in the Rs 11,400 crore Punjab National Bank fraud took a fresh turn on Friday when the Congress released a video in which Mr Modi is hosting Choksi and other businessmen and even refers to him as “Mehul Bhai” in his speech.
The video shows the Prime Minister saying, “Lekin bank se jyada usko apne sonar pe bharosa hai. Woh bade se bade jewellery ke showroom mein jayega aur lene ke baad apne sonar ke yahan jayega, ‘Zara check kar le bhai.’ Kitna hi bada showroom hoga, hamare Mehul bhai yahan baithe hain. (He has more confidence in his goldsmith than the banks. Even if he picks up jewellery from big showrooms, he will get them checked by his goldsmith… Mehul bhai is siting here…”
The video clip shows Choksi, seated among the audience at the Prime Minister’s 7, RCR residence, now called 7 Lok Kalyan Marg.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, while releasing the video, claimed that the function was held during the gold monetisation scheme announced by the government in 2015.
The event, which reports claimed took place on November 5, 2015, was to unveil three schemes aimed at dampening the demand for gold in the country and tap into an estimated 20,000 tonnes of the yellow metal lying idle with households and institutions in India.
The Congress pointed out that while briefing the media on the PNB scam on Thursday, Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had feigned ignorance and asked, “Mehul Choksi… Yehi naam hai na uska? (Mehul Choksi? Isn’t this his name?)”
The Union law minister, however, had gone on to claim that the “income” of the promoter of Geetanjali Jewels, Mehul Choksi, had doubled during the UPA regime (2011-2012).
Reacting to the video released by the Congress, Union HRD minister Prakash Javdekar said, “Showing videos and photographs is wrong.”
Moving away from the video, Mr Javdekar referred to the photograph showing Nirva Modi with the Prime Minister in Davos. Referring to Congress president, who is out on bail in the National Herald case, the HRD minister said, “If someone takes photograph with Rahul Gandhi in Parliament, will it be seen as having some sort of link with the person who’s out on bail?”
Mr Javadekar alleged that Congress president Rahul Gandhi attended an exhibition of Nirav Modi on September 13, 2013, and the bank officials met a day later to decide on sanctioning the loan to Choksi.
Even as the political slugfest continued, and external affairs ministry claimed that the government “does not know where Nirav Modi is”, a TV channel claimed to have tracked him down in New York.
Swinging into action, the MEA then suspended the passports of Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi for a period of four weeks, saying the duo has been asked to respond within a week on why their passports should not be revoked. The MEA will go ahead with the revocation in case the response is not furnished within a week. The income tax department moved in to attach 29 properties and 105 bank accounts of Nirav Modi under the new anti-black money act.
The ED also summoned the duo and, along with the CBI, approached Interpol to help track them down.
The CBI, which registered a fresh FIR on Friday against the Gitanjali Group promoted by Mehul Choksi, also raided the premises of the group across the country, including in Mumbai, Pune, Surat, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Coimbatore.
As per Friday’s FIR against the Gitanjali Group, the PNB claimed that so far it has detected 150 Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) which were fraudulently issued by its “unknown” bank officials in connivance with Nirav Modi and the other accused in the case.
Refuting claims that government agencies and the PMO were aware of the ongoing fraud, the Congress released documents claiming that Prime Minister’s Office, Enforcement Directorate, ministry of corporate affairs, Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO), SEBI and two BJP state governments — Maharashtra and Gujarat — were aware of the ongoing scam pursuant to a series of complaints filed as early as May 7, 2015.