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India

Hong Kong staff of Indian jewellery brand Nirav Modi ‘fear for future’ as fraud allegations swirl around billionaire founder

Modi, ranked by Forbes as India’s 85th richest man with a net worth of US$1.74 billion, is said to have defrauded Punjab National Bank of US$1.8 billion

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 February, 2018, 7:59pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 February, 2018, 11:13pm

All Hong Kong stores of Indian luxury jewellery brand Nirav Modi were still open for business on Saturday amid allegations surrounding its billionaire founder over a US$1.8 billion (HK$14.08 billion) banking fraud, although local staff expressed concerns over their future.

Employees at all three local branches declined to comment on the incident, but it was understood many were concerned about the scandal.

“Staff said they were aware of the incident and that stores in India had closed. They were worried the stores in Hong Kong would have to close down sooner or later,” a source familiar with the situation said.

When a Post reporter approached employees at the three stores and disclosed her identity, staff immediately said they would not comment.

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They did not respond to questions on if they were aware the firm’s founder Nirav Modi was said to have defrauded India’s state-run lender Punjab National Bank of US$1.8 billion, or if the jewellery brand’s Hong Kong branches would be affected.

One salesperson said they had not received any notification about the incident from the company.

The bank has alleged that its employees colluded with companies related to Modi and his uncle and business partner Mehul Choksi, another famous Indian diamantaire, in issuing unauthorised guarantees.

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Indian authorities have seized more than 10,000 imported luxury watches in relation to what is being called India’s biggest banking scam, Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.

Modi, ranked by Forbes as India’s 85th richest man with a net worth of US$1.74 billion, has denied involvement through his lawyer, according to Reuters.

He has reportedly fled the country and authorities have suspended his passport, although charges have yet to be laid against him.

The third-generation diamond dealer opened his first boutique in Hong Kong at Elements shopping complex in 2015, and last year another at IFC Mall and a 3,000 sq ft flagship store at an upscale shopping arcade in Tsim Sha Tsui.

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Modi has launched at least 10 stores globally, from New York to London.

Shops in Modi’s home country were reportedly shuttered after the allegations came to light last week, while a Beijing and Singaporean branch were still open for business earlier this week.

In an interview with the Post in 2016, Modi claimed he had plans to have 100 stores by 2025.

The Post has reached out to the company for an official comment.