UK judge denies bail to fugitive Indian diamond tycoon
LONDON (AP) — Diamond tycoon Nirav Modi, whose jewels once adorned stars from Bollywood to Hollywood, was ordered held without bail in London on Wednesday, more than a year after Indian authorities alleged he was involved in a $1.8 billion bank fraud.
A judge remanded Modi into custody at the end of a Westminster Magistrates’ Court hearing. District Judge Marie Mallon said there was a risk Modi wouldn’t appear for future hearings because of his access to large sums of money that could help him evade the courts and his “keenness to do so.”
Modi, 48, refused to submit to extradition to India. His lawyer, George Hepburne Scott, had argued Modi had been living openly in London since June 2018. He was arrested Tuesday in central London.
Indian authorities have sought Modi’s arrest since February 2018, when they alleged companies he controlled defrauded the state-owned Punjab National Bank by using fake financial documents to get loans to buy and import jewels.
Police in India later raided the homes and offices of Modi and business partner Mehul Choksi, seizing nearly $800 million in jewels and gold. The men are thought to have left India before the alleged fraud was discovered.
Modi denies the allegations and has sought political asylum in the U.K.
In a letter to Punjab National Bank last year, Modi said he owed the institution about 50 billion rupees ($775 million). The $1.8 billion figure cited by the bank resulted in a media frenzy that pressured authorities to quickly search and seize assets from two of his companies, Firestar International and Firestar Diamond International, Modi said.
The son of a diamond merchant, Modi built an international jewelry empire that stretched from India to New York and Hong Kong. Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra became the face of his eponymous brand and Hollywood actress Naomi Watts appeared with Modi at the opening of his first U.S. boutique in 2015.
As recently as 2017, Forbes magazine estimated Modi’s wealth at $1.8 billion. But his empire began to crumble after the fraud allegations, and he was removed from the publication’s billionaires list in 2018.
Last year, the international police organization Interpol issued a “red notice” seeking Modi’s arrest worldwide. His arrest finally came after Britain’s Daily Telegraph earlier this month said it had tracked him down to a luxury apartment in London’s Centre Point tower, a 34-story building that promotes itself as a “landmark with unparalleled views.”
Ashok Sharma contributed to this story.