By Poonam Joshi
London [UK], May 13 (ANI): A London court on Wednesday heard from a well-known luxury goods executive how the fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi was "passionate" about creating an internationally renowned luxury jewellery brand that was uniquely Indian.
Thierry Fritsch, the former chief executive of the high-end French jewellery Chaumet, who had become an advisor to Modi in 2015, was testifying during the extradition trial of Modi at the Westminster Magistrate's Court in Central London.
Fritsch, who had previously worked for companies such as LVMH and Cartier, said that he had been brought on as an advisor to help Modi to establish the first Indian brand of high jewellery for the international market.
"I was charged with opening new boutiques around the world and to raise the international awareness of the brand. It was really the first instance of a jewellery brand from India becoming an international success. Even brands like Cartier were concerned. He was really proud of his Indian heritage," Fritsch told the court.
Fritsch described Modi as someone who "combined entrepreneurship and creativity" and never "doubted his integrity".
"I was very surprised when all this happened," Fritsch said referring to the charges Modi is currently facing over defrauding the state-owned Punjab National Bank (PNB) of more than Rs 11,000 crore and money laundering.
Fritsch also testified as to why Modi and his companies required large sums of capital -- borrowing that is at the heart of the charges against him.
"Usually a boutique is profitable after two or three years. But it can be a very profitable business once it's established. The business is inherently capital intensive, so in order to be successful we had to raise capital," Fritsch said.
He told the court that he had only agreed to come on board to develop Modi's jewellery brand after being impressed with what he saw.
"His family has been in this business for generations. He had an unusual mix of being an excellent entrepreneur and an artist. His main factory (in Surat) combined modernity and the best craftsmen. The quality control and modernity were amazing, like a Formula 1 factory. The best facility I have seen in my life," Fritsch said.
The court also heard that Modi had bought a large stock of diamonds after the global financial crisis of 2008.
"They were very high-quality stones," Fritsch said. There had been reports when Modi was initially charged that he had routinely peddled fake gemstones as the real thing.
Modi's lawyer, Clare Montgomery, also introduced an Indian legal expert on Wednesday.
The retired High Court Justice Abhay Mahadeo Thipsay was called on to testify on the legal basis upon which the Indian government has requested Modi's extradition to India to face charges.
At the heart of that request is that Modi and companies controlled by him had deceived PNB to issue lines of credit -- called Letters of Understanding (LOU) -- to finance the expansion of his company.
Justice Thipsay, however, dismissed the charge.
"The position of the Indian government has been that there was deception. That PNB was deceived. But under Indian law, there has to be a victim who has been deceived. In this instance, a corporate body (PNB) has been deceived. If that is the case, there has to be someone in the body whose actions were a response to the deception. But there is no one who has been deceived," Justice Thipsay said.
He also questioned the confessions and witness statements compiled against Modi, including the manner in which they were obtained and their very admissibility.
He said that Indian law provided strict conditions for admissibility, especially for statements and other evidence secured and submitted by police because of what he described as a deep-rooted "distrust of the police machinery".
When questioned by Helen Malcolm -- the lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) which is representing the Indian government in the proceedings -- if Modi's lawyers had not made submissions to courts in India to dismiss charges against him on the basis of the issues described by him, Justice Thipsay said, "I do not know why they have not but it is certainly possible."
Also on Wednesday, the Indian government submitted another voluminous tranche of documents as evidence, much to the chagrin of Montgomery.
The documents include bank statements, which Malcolm said would help "clarify matters" in the Indian government's case against Modi.
Montgomery, however, protested, saying the submission was "very troubling" and "highly contentious".
The trial continues until Friday. (ANI)