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From Davos pic to whistleblower’s letter: How PNB scam is knocking hard on Modi govt’s door

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    New Delhi, Feb 16: They say a picture tells a hundred stories. But in today's politically charged atmosphere, we need to exercise caution before coming to a conclusion.

    On Thursday, when the nation was rocked by the massive bank scam--Punjab National Bank fraud case--the mastermind of which is billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi--the opposition released a picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the now absconding diamond merchant and a host of other delegates taken in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

    nirav modi

    The PNB scam is pegged at Rs 11,360 crore, one of the country's biggest financial scandals so far.

    "If this person had fled India before the FIR on Jan 31, then he is here, photographed at Davos with PM, a week before the FIR, after having escaped from India? Modi govt must clarify. #NiravModi #PublicMoneyLoot," tweeted Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury along with the picture.

    The 'infamous' photograph was taken at Davos on January 23. Incidentally, six days later, PNB officials filed a CBI complaint against the celebrity diamantaire and associates about the fraud.

    However, before the law enforcing agency could have done anything, Nirav Modi had already fled the country in January.

    Replying to the opposition parties' attempts to associate PM Modi's name into the entire financial scandal, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the accused jewellery designer was not part of the PM's delegation at Davos. "He was part of the CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) delegation," he asserted.

    Prasad added Nirav Modi's passport had been revoked and a Look Out Circular (LOC) issued against him.

    If Yechury posted the PM's picture with Nirav Modi, the Congress made a letter of a whistleblower from Bengaluru public. The letter written on July 26, 2016 by Bengaluru-based businessman Hari Prasad alerted the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and other law enforcement agencies about the scam.

    However, till date no one whom Prasad had approached got back to him to find out about the truth. In his letter, Prasad did not mention Nirav Modi's name, but alleged that the absconding billionaire's uncle Mehul Choksi, the managing director of Gitanjali Gems, and its "various subsidiary/sister companies" are involved in "fraudulent activities involving thousands of crores of rupees".

    "This company is involved in siphoning out of Rs 1000s of crores of Indian public money through various subsidiary companies floated in India and fictitious companies abroad," stated Prasad's letter.

    Choksi denied all the accusations, but the 'disgraced' bank alleged that the uncle-nephew duo is involved in the fraud.

    "There is clear connivance of group companies of Nirav Modi and Gitanjali Gems with our branch official and also apparently with officials of overseas branches of Indian banks," PNB said in a letter to 32 banks.

    In a press conference at the national capital on Thursday, the Congress posed FIVE questions to the Modi government in regard to the Nirav Modi fraud case.

    "This is a classical double speak of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) trying to divert attention and relying upon half-baked truth," alleged Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala.

    Surjewala also called Nirav Modi as "chhota Modi (small Modi)", in an attempt to bring 'familial connection' between the PM and the alleged bank scam mastermind as they both share the same surname.

    Thus the Congress wants everyone to believe that both the Modis do share close relationship also. Perhaps, Surjewala is not aware that all Gandhis are not Congress' boss; similarly, all Modis are not PM's relatives.

    The five questions of the Congress' are:

    - "Who is responsible for the scam by Nirav Modi?

    - Were all the departments under the Modi government asleep, and why?

    - Punjab National Bank (PNB) chief had told the government that these men would escape. Despite this, how did these men escape?

    - How did the government not spot the biggest banking scam so far?

    - Who is the person who has given security to this scam?

    - How did the risk management system of the banking sector not work?" asked Surjewala.

    The Congress asked the PM to answer all their queries related to the scam. "These questions need to be answered by the PM," added Surjewala. The BJP called another press meet to counter all the allegations of the opposition parties.

    Union minister Prasad said, "A lookout notice has been issued. I wish to make it clear that no one, whatever their stature and standing, who sought to derail the banking system shall be spared."

    In a tit-for-tat, Prasad dragged the previous Congress-led UPA government into the controversy. The Union minister said that the scam started in 2011, when the UPA was in power. 

    Prasad alleged that the assets of Gitanjali Gems and Jewels of Choksi, had doubled between 2011-13 and asked: "How? Whose blessings did Choksi have?"

    Amid all these allegations and counter-allegations, Prasad failed to answer why the PMO did not reply to businessman-whistleblower's letter.

    "When I said no one will be spared, then no one will be spared," the BJP leader reiterated. Prasad slammed the Congress for using the word "chhota Modi".

    "What is this word chhota Modi? There are crores of people with the surname Modi.... The BJP takes strong offence to the use of this kind of language against the PM that is derogatory, scandalous and demeaning," the minister said.

    The BJP warned opposition parties to stop engaging in "photo politics". Prasad said "cosy pictures" of politicians from opposition parties are also with Choksi. The minister added that his party does not want to "stoop to such low politics by making them (the pictures) public".

    The whole banking scam by the diamond merchant, observers say, "has the blessings from political parties."

    And for the regular customers of banks who are worried about their hard-earned cash exposed to swindlers, viral jokes on "NiMo" (Nirav Modi) and "NaMo" (Narendra Modi) as well as "Finding NiMo" (Nirav has left the country) are helping them to breathe little easy.

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