"All Options Are Open," Nirav Modi Said Months Ago About Bank Loans

In India, billboards in Delhi bear the image of Priyanka Chopra, also adorned with Mr Modi's jewels.

'All Options Are Open,' Nirav Modi Said Months Ago About Bank Loans

Nirav Modi has a net worth of some $1.8 billion according to Forbes magazine rankings (File)

Nirav Modi's name was, till recently, a stamp of corporate India's growing global prestige. On Hollywood red carpets, his diamonds sparkled on actors and models like Kate Winslet, Dakota Johnson and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

In India, billboards in Delhi bear the image of Priyanka Chopra, also adorned with Mr Modi's jewels.

But today, the government has suspended Mr Modi's passport, a day after law enforcement officials fanned out to raid his jewellery stores and other businesses in Mumbai and New Delhi.

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials told reporters the agency had on February 4, issued a lookout circular in the country for Mr Modi, who they say flew out of the country on January 1.

Mr Modi, who has a net worth of some $1.8 billion according to Forbes magazine rankings, has not yet responded to the allegations and could not be reached for comment. NDTV learnt today that he is staying in a luxury suite in a New York hotel overlooking Central Park with his wife, who is also wanted in a case of fraud that is estimated at $1.6 billion.

During an interview with news agency Reuters in November, Mr Modi discussed his love for art, poetry and paintings. Asked how he planned to raise funds to add new stores, he seemed unconcerned. "All options are open," he said, sitting in his cavernous Mumbai office. "We could use internal accruals. We can take loans from banks or we could do an initial public offering."

Last month, India's second-largest state-run lender, Punjab National Bank, filed a criminal complaint with the CBI that accused Mr Modi and others of defrauding the bank and causing it a loss of about $44 million.

The news was a shock for the circles in which Mr Modi moved.

As recently as last month, he was at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He was part of a group photograph with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the foreground .

"Top industrialists invited him home to display his collections," said a Mumbai investment banker at a US-based firm who has worked directly with Mr Modi's company. "There was a personal touch in everything he sold. Nirav Modi is a brand."

Mr Modi grew up in Antwerp, Belgium, in a diamond-dealing family. In 1990, at the age of 19, he moved to Mumbai, according to the November interview.

Nine years later, he started his own company, Firestar Diamond Ltd., selling loose stones. He employed fewer than a dozen people at the time. By last year, the number was more than 2,000.

He said he came to realise that the margins were better in retail.

In 2010, Mr Modi launched an eponymous jewellery business branded NIRAV MODI, in capitals, with the tagline "Haut Diamantaire". New boutiques in Las Vegas and Hawaii have since been added to a stable that stretches from New York to London to Beijing.

He became a man whose diamond necklaces were sold, with his name attached, by Sotheby's. "Pure feminine elegance," says a Hong Kong auction catalogue note of one 85.33 carat diamond necklace.

The auction house posted an online slideshow of jewellery-on-stars at the 2017 Oscars and highlighted supermodel Karlie Kloss having "a major Nirav Modi moment with her diamond 'Mughal' choker."

But the celebrity links could be starting to break.

A spokesperson for Priyanka Chopra, the film star, said in a statement: "She is currently seeking legal opinion with respect to terminating her contract with the brand in light of allegations of financial fraud against Nirav Modi."
© Thomson Reuters 2018

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