New Delhi: About three months before details of the Punjab National Bank loan fraud scam became public in India, diamantaire Nirav Modi reportedly applied for citizenship of Vanuatu – and was rejected because the island nation discovered “adverse findings” during the probity check.
According to a report in the Indian Express, in November 2017, Modi transferred $195,000 from his personal account to one of the 18 authorised Vanuatu government agents who facilitate the country’s Citizenship by Investment programme. But when the South Pacific Ocean island nation ran a background check on the businessman, “adverse findings” were uncovered and his citizenship request was rejected.
“The purpose of the $195,000 was to pay the application fee for honorary Vanuatu citizenship. However, a Government Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) probity check found adverse findings against Mr Modi. Therefore his application was not considered by the Government,” Justin Ngwele, managing partner of Vanuatu-based law firm Indigene Lawyers that processes Modi’s application, told the Indian Express in an email.
While saying that he was unaware of the nature of these “adverse findings”, Ngwele said, “We no longer have any dealings with Mr Modi. Mr Modi or his family members don’t have Vanuatu citizenship.” The money Modi had paid to the firm was returned, according to Ngwele.
Indian agencies are currently investigating Modi on allegations of cheating the state-run Punjab National Bank through the fraudulent issuance of Letters of Undertaking and Foreign Letters of Credit worth over $2 billion (about Rs 13,000 crore) by Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi, both absconding since the first week of January.
PNB, in its January 29 complaint to the Central Bureau of Investigation, said that the bank detected the fraud only in third week of January – three months after Modi tried to become a citizen of Vanuatu.
Choksi is currently in Antigua. He is reported to have been granted citizenship of the country in November 2017, around the same time Modi was applying for Vanuatu citizenship. The Ministry of External Affairs has put in a request for his extradition.
The UK has confirmed that Modi is in its territory and has applied for asylum there, and the Central Bureau of Investigation has moved an extradition request.