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17 Feb 2018

Centre's NiMo claim crumbles

Indian Youth Congress activists burn effigies of Nirav Modi as they raise slogans against Punjab National Bank fraud case in New Delhi on Friday. PTI Photo 
Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, TT, Feb 16, 2018, New Delhi: More than half of the 293 alleged fraudulent instruments in the diamond banking scam were issued in 2017-18, an FIR registered by the CBI has revealed, striking at the root of the Narendra Modi government's drive to distance itself from the scandal.

In terms of value, this set of 151 fraudulent letters of understanding and letters of credit from Punjab National Bank (PNB) account for Rs 5,167 crore of the Rs 11,400-crore scam or over 45 per cent of the cumulative defrauded amount. 

The FIR, filed on Thursday, says as many as 143 of the irregular instruments, worth Rs 4,887 crore, were issued to three companies owned by Mehul Choksi, the uncle of Nirav Modi.

The revelations not only bring under severe stress the Modi government's assertion that the scandal was a "UPA scam" but also punch holes in BJP ministers' defence for inaction: that a letter sent to the PMO in 2016 had mentioned only Choksi's name and not that of Nirav.

The fresh disclosures, based on complaints filed by PNB, focus attention firmly on Choksi and his three firms - Gitanjali Gems, Gili India and Nakshatra Brands.

The Congress on Friday came up with another letter - sent as far back as in 2015 -that warned the PMO and others about Choksi and predicted that he would flee the country. 

In spite of the alert, Choksi had a free run for nearly three years - he left the country on January 4 this year.

The details of 142 of the 150 LoUs mentioned in the first FIR are still not known. The 142 LoUs were worth as much as Rs 6,218 crore. The first FIR mentions "during 2017" as the year of occurrence but lists only eight fraudulent LoUs (worth Rs 280 crore) issued to Nirav's firms.

CBI spokesperson Abhishek Dayal said "the scam had started in 2011 and rolled on into a huge scam subsequently". But no specific dates related to the 142 deals were disclosed.

Even if it is established that the scam had begun in 2011, the Modi government will find it difficult to explain how more than half of the fraudulent deals were struck last year under its watch.

The CBI is suspecting the involvement of more senior PNB officials besides the two named in the FIR. Four officials of the bank are being questioned, sources said.

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