Taking a cue from fellow fraud-committing, beleaguered businessman Vijay Mallya, diamantaire Nirav Modi too has reached London with high hopes of attaining political asylum from the government. He has escaped India in January, after committing a $2.2 billion bank fraud. His presence in the country was confirmed by UK Counter-terrorism Minister Baroness Williams of Trafford during her official visit to India on Monday. She has assured authorities in New Delhi of her country's full co-operation.
After news of Modi's probable presence in London broke into headlines, the Indian government, authorities and the press jumped into action. In a later report, it was known that the UK may link the extradition process of the fugitive businessmen- both Modi and Mallya, with the signing of a much-delayed agreement that will facilitate deportation of over 75,000 Indians who are allegedly illegally staying in Britain. The topic of the final signing of the memorandum of understanding on illegal immigrants was raised by Baroness Williams during her talks with India's Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju.
During the talks, Williams stressed on the need for formal signing of the MoU to enable the return of illegal Indian immigrants within a month of their detection by British authorities. Meanwhile, Rijiju raised the issue of extradition of the defunct billionaires. An official said, “We are afraid they may link the process of extradition of Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya and others with the signing of the MoU.”
Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi are alleged to be among the main beneficiaries of a fraud at the Punjab National Bank (PNB). While both have denied any wrong doing Indian officials did everything to book them under the law. Modi's shops and jewellery have been seized. His bank accounts frozen and cars impounded. A chargesheet filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) at a court in Mumbai has reportedly named him a “wanted accused”. Also in the list are Choksi and 17 members of PNB staff.
CBI closes all doors for Modi
CBI, meanwhile, has sent a request to the Interpol to issue a so-called Red Corner Notice (RCN) seeking Modi's detention. The jeweller's escape has provoked an outcry in India with the Opposition and the public mounting pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The RCN request will empower police agencies of 190 member-countries to locate and arrest Modi and Choksi. Sources said Interpol will take a call on CBI's request soon, sources said. In its chargesheets last month, the CBI has claimed that Nirav Modi siphoned off funds to the tune of £649.82 million through his companies, using fraudulent LoUs issued from PNB's Brady House branch in Mumbai. Choksi swindled another £708.08 million, making it the biggest banking scam in India yet. Also a matter of probe is an additional loan default of over £500 million.
Is UK deliberately driving a dent in its relations with India?
It felt like yet another knife down India's back when reports of Nirav Modi seeking political asylum in the UK began to do the rounds. Authorities in New Deli have been hunting for the fugitive magnate for months after he committed the country's largest financial scandals. Ever since he escaped the country, rumours have claimed that the tycoon is either in Hong Kong or New York. And now, his emergence in London only makes the UK the thriving hub of Indian émigré billionaires. Nirav Modi has now joined the ranks of liquor mogul Vijay Mallya and cricket tycoon Lalit Modi.
The latest addition has only irked the already displeased Narendra Modi government, which openly frowns upon the UK's role as a haven for its absconding uber-rich. The desperate Indian government find UK's perceived reluctance to send them home, rather perplexing. The frustration was evident with Modi's recent exchange with British counterpart Theresa May, when he not-so-subtly hinted her not to question the standards of Indian jails. While it may not be so much the UK's fault that the Indian billionaires end up in London seeking asylum, as the rule of law is to be followed, it is also true that the UK profits a big deal by being a “favoured bolthole” for the fraud-committing rich brats.
Indians, without an ounce of doubt, are the biggest investors in London's prime property. Several respectable, high-yielding tycoons have even set up shop in the Capital. So with India's bourgeois arriving each year to set up their base, the financial vibrancy of the city receives a boost. Several wealthy Indians hold British passports, and over half a million people of Indian descent live in London. Britain's approach to India is rather ironical. While visas appear to be made easily available for the wealthy, middle class Indians find it rather difficult to study and work in the country.
For Modi government, the UK's policies most probably seem back-to-front, creating a hostile environment for students and entrepreneurs, while leaving a widely-opened door and a flower garland for the “questionable” rich. But then, can you really blame the UK for trying to woo Indian businessmen as it tries to settle down in a life outside the EU? Until then, to please the Indian government, May will have to build a much understanding relationship with the mainstream Indians - the ones who aren't sought back by the Indian government.