By Greg Norman
Published March 20, 2019
An Indian diamond tycoon who has catered to Hollywood and Bollywood stars has been arrested in London over his alleged involvement in a $1.8 billion banking fraud scandal.
A judge remanded Nirav Modi into custody Wednesday 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."
The 48-year-old 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.
Modi is wanted in India over allegations he defrauded the state-run Punjab National Bank. The Associated Press is calling the case one of the largest-ever of its kind there.
Punjab National Bank, according to Reuters, claimed last year that two jewelry groups operated by Modi and his uncle, Mehul Choksi, defrauded it by working with rogue staff. It reported that the groups raised credit from other Indian banks through the use of illegal guarantees issued by the employees.
Both Modi and Choksi fled the country before details of the case emerged, and have denied wrongdoing, Reuters added.
Police in India later raided the homes and offices of the pair, seizing nearly $800 million in jewels and gold.
In a letter to the bank last year, Modi said he owed the institution about $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."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.