Opposition targets PM on banking fraud by jeweller Nirav Modi

New Delhi, Feb 15 (IANS) The opposition on Thursday mounted a belligerent attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government, accusing it of failing to act on time against a bank fraud of Rs 20,000 crore and of complicity in letting the alleged kingpin billionaire diamond merchant Nirav Modi flee the country.

The government refused to take the blame for the fraud in India’s second biggest state-run bank, saying it happened during the UPA rule and that Prime Minister Modi won’t spare anyone involved in the scam. The BJP took offence to Congress calling Nirav a “Chhota Modi”, saying it was shameful and irresponsible.

The Congress led the opposition charge with party President Rahul Gandhi alleging that Nirvav Modi’s case was a guide to “looting India” which involves getting closer to and hugging Prime Minister Modi and then slipping away from the country — like liquor baron Vijay Mallya.

The Congress circulated a picture of Prime Minister Modi with Indian CEOs at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January in which Nirav Modi is seen standing in the second row.

It asked Prime Minister Modi to come clean on the government’s “failure” and identify those who helped the “Chhota Modi” run away.

Defending the government, IT and Communication Minister Ravi Shankar said it took “strong offence” to the Congress calling the billionaire jeweller “Chhota Modi”, saying it was “derogatory, scandalous and demeaning” to the Prime Minister.

The Congress posed a series of questions to the Prime Minister, saying the PMO failed to act even after a complaint was filed to Modi’s office as early as July 26, 2016.

“The Congress demands accountability, responsibility and recovery of the money and answers on who had protected another ‘Chhota Modi’ and helped him flee the country,” party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala told reporters.

It pegged the scam at more than Rs 20,000 crore — Rs 11,400 on account of Nirav Modi’s actions and Rs 9,872 crore through exposure of various banks by his uncle Mehul Choksi.

Surjewala said the Prime Minister and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley should break their silence.

Accusing the NDA government of trampling upon the entire banking system, he said risk management system, fraud detection ability and regulatory mechanism of banks were “severally compromised” under the Modi government.

“Entire system was bypassed. All regulatory mechanisms broke down. Everything escaped the eyes of auditors and investigators. Risk management and fraud detection ability came to a naught. Yet, the Modi government would have us believe that this entire fraud was being perpetrated by two employees.”

Citing a complaint by whistleblower Hari Prasad, the Congress said Modi was made aware of this fraud on July 26, 2016 and it was acknowledged by the PMO.

“Multiple documents, including a list of 42 FIRs that were pending, were also in the knowledge of the Prime Minister. Despite all this, Nirav Modi travelled in the business delegation to Davos in January with Prime Minister Modi.”

Alleging that “loot and escape” had become the hallmark of the Modi government, Surjewala said: “Post-escape of ‘Lalit Modi’ i.e. ‘Chhota Modi’ and ‘Vijay Mallya’, another ‘Modi scam’ has hit India’s banking sector the hardest. First, Lalit Modi escaped. Vijya Mallya escaped. ABG’s Rishi Agarwal escaped. Now, we are told that Nirav Modi has also escaped (from) India.”

CPI-M’s Sitaram Yechury guessed that the businessman Modi may be in Switzerland where he was photographed with Prime Minister Modi.

“If this person had fled India before the FIR on January 31, then he is here, photographed at Davos with the PM, a week before the FIR, after having escaped from India? The Modi government must clarify,” Yechury said.

West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee demanded a thorough probe into the fraud, vowing she would not let the Central government off the hook until the people’s money was secured.

Banerjee said she has written to the Finance Ministry to scrap the proposed Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance (FRDI) Bill.

The ruling AAP in Delhi also attacked the government, alleging that the BJP was “benefiting big businessmen and defrauders like Lalit Modi, Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi and its leaders were involved in the scams done by these people”.

The government sought to distance itself, blaming the Congress-led UPA regime for influencing loans that became non-performing assets (NPAs) while asserting that the guilty will not be spared.

Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said no loans had been given in Modi government’s tenure which can become NPAs and the loan to Nirav Modi was given during the tenure of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

“The legacy of NPAs comes from the Congress.”

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