'We were told that CBI would hang us upside down and thrash us'

By Poonam Joshi

London [UK], May 15 (ANI): The extradition trial of Nirav Modi continued at the Westminster Magistrate's Court with more effusive praise for the "phenomenal" success and "talent" that the now-fugitive diamond dealer had become prior to his fall from grace.

World-renowned experts have testified as to Modi's creativity and business acumen as well as the extraordinary growth enjoyed by the Nirav Modi brand.

At the heart of the accusations faced by Modi - that he defrauded the state-owned Punjab National Bank (PNB) of more than Rs 11,000 crores - is the manner in which he acquired the funds to finance that extraordinary growth.

The Government of India alleges that Modi colluded with employees at PNB to fraudulently obtain the funds and channel them through various shell companies in a giant 'Ponzi Scheme', according to the government - obtaining loans from one company to cover the debts of another.

On Tuesday that scheme was put into stark relief as District Judge Mark Goozee was shown a dramatic video by the UK's Crown Prosecution Service, which is acting on behalf of the Indian government.

According to the testimony on the video, it had been made on 27 June 2018 in Cairo, Egypt - apparently for the benefit of investigating agencies in India.

The video features five men: Rushabh Jethwa, the "namesake" owner of Empire Gems FZE in Sharjah; Sonu Mehta, the namesake director of Auragem Company Limited, Hong Kong; Shreedhar Mayekar, the namesake owner of Unique Diamond and Jewellery, Ajman, UAE; Nileshkumar Balwantrai Mistry, the namesake owner of Hamilton Precious Traders Limited in Dubai and Ashish Kumar Mohanbhai Lad, namesake owner of Sunshine Gems Limited, Hong Kong and Unity Trading FZE, Dubai, UAE.

The repeated references to "namesake owner" suggests that the men had been appointed by Modi to shell companies that, according to the charges against Modi, were used to channel funds made available by the Punjab National Bank.

The men claim that associates of Modi, Kurian Mathew and Divyesh Gandhi, as well as Modi's step-brother Nehal Modi had asked them to leave Dubai for Cairo as the companies were under investigation by Indian government agencies over the fraud charges against Modi and his companies.

That fraud investigation had been launched in early 2018.

The men claim that while the documents that they were forced to sign state that they had left Dubai to "avoid creditors and liabilities", in actual fact that they had been "made to leave Dubai" as the Indian government inquiry moved to the Emirate in mid-2018.

Once in Cairo, they were handed documents allegedly confirming that the above companies did belong to them legitimately and they had all had had business dealings with Firestar Diamonds, a company owned by Modi.

Firestar Diamonds is at the heart of the CBI and ED (Enforcement Directorate) investigation into Modi.

Rushabh Jethwa is heard saying: "The documents said that we 'left Dubai after our respective businesses collapsed and ran to Cairo'. But we just worked for Nirav Modi."

Jethwa says that the documents were placed in front of the men by Nehal Modi who asked them to sign to "ensure their safety as well as that of their families" back home in India.

Rushabh Jethwa continues: "The thing is they have complete control over us, over every movement that we make and that is the reason we are not feeling safe here and we want to go, as soon as possible and, for that very reason we signed the documents that we had signed today."

In fact, the men claim Modi's brother had also made a short video after the documents were signed in which the men are asked if they are being compelled to sign.

"It was clearly said in the video, 'are we forcing you all to do this? are we forcing you all to sign over here? Is anybody pressuring you?'"

"We had to say no for that thing because if we had not said that, those things, we could not get our passports, and we could not fly from here. We signed it for our personal safety", says Mr Shreedhar Mayekar.

Jethwa adds that he had asked - on behalf of his colleagues - if they could read and examine the documents prior to signing but were refused, once again on the grounds of the men's' "safety".

"We couldn't even take a photograph of the document", Mayekar says.

Crucially, one of the men appears to corroborate statements made by another former employee of Modi's organization - Divyesh Kumar Gandhi - who has turned state witness for the CBI.

Gandhi has alleged that he handled accounting duties for a number of Modi's shell companies.

One of the men in the video, Ashish Lad states: "He (Gandhi) is also an employee like us and he dared to go to the agency (CBI) before and whatever details he gave was true and there is nothing false in it.

Lad also says in Hindi: "Inhone Humaeh Bhi Daraya Tha Ki CBI Nanga Karke Maregi, Ulta Karke Maregi" (They had even threatened us that CBI would remove our clothes and thrash us and would hang us upside down).

He adds: "They told us, ED would do this and do that. We were threatened and we were very frightened. That's why we came here to Cairo and now want to return to our homes".

Lad further said that he and his colleagues had all been "ordinary" employees of Firestar Diamonds who had been brought to Dubai, "flattered" and told their roles as "directors".

"We were told that everything was of Nirav Modi and that he was making turnover in companies in our names to increase his turnover. We were told that no loan has been taken in our names but we were misguided", Mr Lad says.

"We are not high-level people. We are small people", he concludes.

Several of the men confirm that their laptops and mobile phones were destroyed by Nehal Modi prior to their transfer to Cairo.

"One of the things that they threatened us with was that if we ran away to India from Dubai they would put everything on us. We were very much afraid", says Nilesh Mistry.

"Nirav Modi called me and told me that he would implicate me for theft if I didn't cooperate. He had used worst (sic) expletives...told me that he would get me killed...he did so much to us", Lad adds. "This is the reason we have signed the documents we want to get out of here."

Prior to making the video (it is unclear what equipment they used to make it) the men had been told they would be returning to India and even shown airline tickets but the departure dates were changed several times.

It is unclear where the men are at the moment or whether they managed to return to India safely.

The first part of Modi's extradition trial is expected to conclude on Friday when the judge will decide if there is a Prima Facie case against the billionaire diamantaire. (ANI)