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US$87m in assets of fugitive Indian jewellery tycoon seized

Nirav Modi is a key suspect in a US$1.8b fraud on a state-run bank

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A 2015 picture of Nirav Modi, who fled India in February after the authorities accused him of defrauding the Punjab National Bank. He was last seen in England.

New Delhi

INDIAN authorities said on Monday that they have seized assets of fugitive billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi worth some US$87 million, piling pressure on one of the main suspects in a US$1.8-billion fraud at a major state-run bank.

The seized assets included overseas bank accounts and diamond-studded jewellery valued to the tune of US$3.1 million. These have been brought back to India from Hong Kong in 23 shipments, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) said.

The jewellery had been shipped out after Indian federal police registered a case of fraud against Mr Modi in January.

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"The international cooperation has borne fruit," the ED said in a statement.

"This has resulted in the seizure and provisional attachment of jewellery, bank accounts and immovable properties worth US$87 million in India, as well as in four foreign jurisdictions."

The list of seized assets include a London property worth about US$7.8 million and two others in New York valued at US$29 million.

Mr Modi, last seen in England, fled India in February after the authorities accused him of defrauding the Punjab National Bank.

He and his uncle and business partner Mehul Choksi, also a diamond merchant, are accused of illegally diverting loans from the bank to foreign-based companies. Mr Choksi is in Antigua.

Mr Modi, 47, had luxury stores in several major cities and boasted celebrity customers such as actresses Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet and Priyanka Chopra.

Before the case, Forbes had estimated his worth at US$1.73 billion, placing him 85th on India's rich list. He has now been removed from the ranking.

In February and March, the ED seized his farmhouse, high-end antique jewellery, watches and rare paintings.

He is not the only Indian billionaire facing heat from the authorities. Vijay Mallya, a business tycoon who owned a Formula One team, left India in 2016 after the authorities launched money-laundering charges against him.

He was subsequently arrested in England and released on bail. Even as he battles extradition, he lives in a sprawling US$15 million mansion in southeast England. AFP