CBI arrests PNB GM, seals Nirav Modi’s Alibaug farmhouse

Feb 21, 2018 0

New Delhi/Mumbai– The CBI on Wednesday said it has arrested a General Manager-rank officer of the Punjab National Bank (PNB) in connection with the Rs 11,300 crore fraud and sealed diamond merchant Nirav Modi’s Alibaug farmhouse in Maharashtra.

Rajesh Jindal, who was holding the charge of Mumbai-based PNB’s Brady House branch between August 2009 and May 2011, was arrested on Tuesday night after daylong questioning in Mumbai.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials said the fraud perpetrated by the issuance of Letters of Understanding (LoUs) and Foreign Letters of Credit (FLCs) by PNB for sanction of loans to diamantire Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi’s group of firms took place during Jindal’s tenure.

Jindal, presently posted as GM (Credit) at PNB’s Head Office in New Delhi, was heading the second largest branch of the PNB when the practice of issuing the LoUs without sanctioned limits began.

Jindal is the 12th accused to be arrested in the case so far. He was on Wednesday presented in a special CBI court in Mumbai which sent him to the agency’s custody till March 5, an official said.

The agency also sealed Nirav Modi’s Alibaug farmhouse spread over 1.5 acres near the Mumbai seashore, a day after a search by the CBI there.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which is also probing the PNB fraud case separately, on Wednesday carried out searches at 17 locations in Mumbai. It carried out searches at four firms suspected to be shell companies.

Officials connected to the case said the businessman bought the farmhouse in 2004 for Rs 32 crore in his name. “The farmhouse has a palatial bungalow ‘Rouapanya’ spread over 12,000 square feet. It has a swimming pool, library, gym and other luxuries.”

The CBI’s move was part of its multiple raids at residential and office premises of the accused ever since it filed two FIRs on February 14-15 against Nirav Modi and the Gitanjali group of firms respectively.

The agency officials continued to question an Executive Director and General Manager level officials of the Brady House branch along with Modi’s staff and associates, including Saurabh Sharma, who is President of the Foreign Finance Division of Firestar International Pvt Ltd, and Subhash Parab, Finance Executive.

Beside, the agency also examined executive-level officials of Mehul Choksi’s Gitanjali group — Gitanjali Gems Ltd, Gili India Ltd and Nakshatra Brands Ltd.

Earlier on Tuesday, the agency had arrested three employees of Nirav Modi and two of his uncle Mehul Choksi’s Gitanjali Gems and Nakshatra firms.

Nirav Modi’s Firestar International firm’s President Vipul Ambani, its Senior Executive Arjun Patil, and Executive Assistant and authorised signatory of the diamond merchant’s three accused firms, Kavita Mankikar, were arrested on Tuesday.

Chief Financial Officer of Gitanjali group, Kapil Khandelwal, and its Manager Niten Shahi were also held on Tuesday.

Vipul is the son of late Dhirubhai Ambani’s younger brother Natubhai Ambani.

Those arrested on Tuesday were presented in a CBI court on Wednesday and sent in the agency’s custody till March 3.

On Tuesday, the ED officials said over 120 shell companies were allegedly linked to Nirav Modi and Choksi, who along with their respective family members are said to have left the country in early January.

The ED is investigating 79 shell companies owned by the Gitanjali chief and 41 owned by Nirav Modi in India and examining if the money taken from banks was diverted to these shell companies. (IANS)

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Export credit agencies: Potential partners for Indian infrastructure

Feb 21, 2018 0

By Taponeel Mukherjee

Export credit agencies (ECAs) have globally played a significant role in promoting trade and investments by providing insurance and funding. It is important for global infrastructure investors and the Indian government to look at ECAs as a significant enabler of much-needed infrastructure investments in India.

This is especially true for new infrastructure projects, or greenfield projects, that need to be funded. The focus on the role of ECAs needs to encompass that of an insurance provider, an investor and a liquidity provider in foreign exchange.

A centralised agency needs to be set up to work with foreign private investors and ECAs. The focus should be on a few specific infrastructure sectors to start with. This will help develop a template for the partnerships to work for all other sectors in the future.

Once the sectors are identified, the focus must be on creating contract templates that can be used to create efficient financing mechanisms. Only once the projects in the pilot sector are implemented should the mechanism be used to fund new sectors. A well-drafted financing and contract mechanism will go a long way in boosting investments in the years to come.

There are a few fundamental advantages that a robust ECA mechanism can provide that will boost infrastructure investments. Firstly, a lot of foreign commercial lenders may not be able to access Indian investments, especially greenfield, due to the perceived high credit-risk involved. The ECA can provide insurance to make infrastructure assets in India more attractive.

Secondly, ECAs, with their credit insurance and political risk insurance, make debt investments more attractive for foreign investors. Debt will be the primary source of funding. ECAs, through their credit-risk mitigating mechanism, greatly assist in boosting debt investments.

Thirdly, ECAs need to work with private investors to look at products that help extend the maturity of the payment stream due from the project or the borrower. This will help foreign commercial banks with capital to deploy in longer-dated infrastructure projects. Simply put, a foreign lender looking for 10-year assets, might be able to finance a 15-year asset if ECAs can design a product that helps in doing so. Being able to extend maturities will make more infrastructure projects feasible for lenders.

Fourthly, ECAs can also assist in boosting infrastructure by creating mechanisms that allow foreign lenders to lend in their home currency. One of the biggest risks foreign lenders in India face is the foreign exchange risk. ECAs can create pools of liquidity that allow lenders to hedge the local currency risk from India.

From a due diligence perspective, ECAs can act as a second layer of analysis and risk management, as each ECA will undertake its own independent risk analysis of projects. Lenders who come through partnerships with such ECAs will be able to finance projects that are likely to be of higher quality and better structured.

The ability of the ECA to do additional analysis and provide the requisite funding mechanism will also encourage more greenfield risk-taking. A well-structured regulatory mechanism in partnerships with multiple ECAs has the potential to provide the required boost to greenfield projects.

The Credit Enhancement Fund announced in the Budget in 2017 can also get a boost by collaborating with ECAs from different countries. The Fund is a great start, but if policymakers can create an environment to encourage ECAs, it will lead to more efficient capital flow within the ecosystem. The aim of the Fund is to provide a boost to infrastructure investments by providing insurance to infrastructure projects. Allowing ECAs from other countries to operate within India will allow even more infrastructure investments to be created.

In a country with a large infrastructure deficit and a banking sector struggling with NPAs, effective mechanisms to improve the flow of credit is essential. ECAs provide a significant source of funding and expertise that must be looked at in greater detail. (IANS)

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Microsoft announces Indian languages support for e-mail addresses

Feb 21, 2018 0

New Delhi– Microsoft on Wednesday announced support for e-mail addresses in 15 Indian languages across its apps and services, including Office 365, Outlook 2016, Outlook.com, Exchange Online and Exchange Online Protection (EOP).

Indian users would be able to use local language e-mail addresses for Outlook accounts on their personal computers, the company said on the occasion of the International Mother Language Day.

It would also allow users to seamlessly send/receive mails to/from local language e-mail addresses via Outlook client on PCs, Outlook.com in addition to Outlook apps for Android and IOS.

“Making e-mail addresses available in 15 languages is an exciting step to making modern communications and collaboration tools more accessible and easier to use for all,” Meetul Patel, COO, Microsoft India, said in a statement.

“We are making technology use the language of people and not requiring people to first learn the traditional language of technology,” Patel added.

The initiative is part of the company’s ongoing efforts to support Email Address Internationalisation (EAI) across its products and services eco-system and make technology accessible in local languages.

The languages being introduced are those that support Unicode — an international encoding standard for use with different languages and scripts.

Microsoft’s products will also support additional Indian languages as and when their IDNs and e-mail addresses become available in the future, making this feature forward compatible.

Last month, Microsoft announced the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Deep Neural Networks (DNN) to improve real-time language translation for Hindi, Bengali and Tamil languages.

This technology would help users in getting results that are more accurate and natural while surfing the Internet across any website on the Microsoft Edge browser, Bing search, Bing Translator website, as well as Microsoft Office 365 products like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Skype. (IANS)

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Reforms undertaken in India in right direction: Donald Trump Jr

Feb 21, 2018 0

Kolkata– US President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr. on Wednesday said regulatory reforms in India’s real estate sector during the last four-five years are in the “right direction” and these are “important” for foreign players looking to invest in this space in the country.

“I have seen a lot of changes over a decade… some of the reforms that have taken place over the last four-five years are corrections in the right directions… I think in the end, in the long-run… these are the important reforms are needed to happen,” Trump Jr, who is real estate firm Trump Organisation’s Executive Vice President, told reporters here.

He, however, said if he was excited about the marketplace, but at the same time it was a bit of “frustration” for him to turn down new deals and projects in India due to the presidency of his father.

“While he will be in office, there will be some self-imposed rules on new deals,” said the eldest son of the US President.

Saying his firm was “bullish over India for a long period of time”, he however noted that due to his father’s political position, they were unable to do the deals, “which is shameful for me, because I have spent so much of time to prospering these relationships. It’s obviously understandable”.

Asked about how many deals his real estate company had to lose out on in India since his father took office, Trump Jr said: “We were probably looking to close a dozen deals… now, I am not saying that all of these deals would have come through. Some of the deals we are talking about take years to actually be implemented. I imagine five-six deals could have happened… but we have to turn them down.”

India is the Trump Organisation’s biggest international market, with four real estate projects underway. The largest is in Gurugram. In Pune, a Trump-branded project has been built. And in Mumbai, a 78-story tower with 400 residences is scheduled to be completed next year.

Asked whether the organisation is looking to expand its portfolio in India, he said: “We are a real estate company. We have a big hotel portfolio, we have big golf portfolio, so we can expand away from commercial and residential sectors. We can look at resort and hospitality sector. Again that should be later on, not now.” (IANS)

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Allahabad Bank has outstanding exposure of Rs 516.79 cr in Rotomac group

Feb 21, 2018 0

Kolkata– State-run Allahabad Bank on Wednesday said it has an exposure of Rs 516.79 crore to debt-laden Rotomac group as on January end and the lender has the required provision for the same as per RBI norms.

According to a regulatory filing, the bank said it has an outstanding of Rs 43.09 crore to Rotomac Exim Pvt Ltd as a sole banker, Rs 314.56 crore to Rotomac Global as multiple banking lending and Rs 159.14 crore to Rotomac Exports as a consortium arrangement with Bank of India as a lead banker.

These three accounts constitute Rs 516.79 crore of outstanding exposure as on January 31, 2018.

“The aforesaid accounts of Rotomac group classified as non-performing assets as per IRAC norms of RBI and the required provision has been made,” it said in the filing.

The bank said the accounts of Rotomac Global and Rotomac Exports have been filed in National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and was admitted on September 20, 2017.

Complaints have already been lodged with the CBI, ED and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence against the group. (IANS)

 

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55 lakh GST returns filed in January: Official

Feb 21, 2018 0

New Delhi– The New Year saw as many as 55 lakh Goods and Services (GST) returns being filed for the month of January so far in line with a rising curve of assessees under the country’s new indirect tax regime, GST Network (GSTN) Chairman Ajay Bhushan Pandey said on Wednesday.

The last date for filing initial GSTR-3B sales returns for any month is the 20th of the subsequent month. Businesses, however, can continue to file returns after that date on payment of a late fee.

“The total number of GST-3B returns filed in the month of January till date is 55 lakh,” Pandey told reporters here.

As per GSTN data, 56.30 lakh GSTR-3B returns were filed in December bringing in Rs 86,703 crore of revenue.

In November 53.06 lakh such returns were filed for a total revenue to the exchequer of Rs 80,808 crore.

Meanwhile, the Union Finance Ministry said on Wednesday that GST collection figures for January would be released officially at a later date.

“GST Revenue Collection figures appearing in certain section of media are not authentic. Therefore,the same may be ignored. The Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance releases authentic GST Revenue figures for every month through PIB (Press Information Bureau),” it tweeted. (IANS)

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Jio to invest Rs 10,000 crore in 3 years in UP: Mukesh Ambani

Feb 21, 2018 0

Lucknow– Reliance Jio will invest another Rs 10,000 crore in Uttar Pradesh over the next three years, Reliance Industries Limited Chairman Mukesh Ambani said here on Wednesday.

“Today I am happy to inform this audience that Jio is one of the largest investors in Uttar Pradesh with investments of over Rs 20,000 crore. Jio is providing the highest quality data at the lowest price in the world to over 2 crore citizens of Uttar Pradesh,” Ambani said while addressing the Uttar Pradesh Investors’ Summit 2018.

“I have come to Lucknow to assure the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister that Jio’s Digital Revolution is here to make the maximum contribution to UP’s development revolution,” he added.

While talking about affordable handsets, JioPhone, Ambani said: “Jio will make available over two crore JioPhones in UP within the next two months on a priority basis.”

He mentioned that Jio has already created over 40,000 direct and indirect jobs in the state.

“Jio will establish a Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution within the campus of a reputed university in Uttar Pradesh,” Ambani added. (IANS)

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UP Khadi products now available on Amazon India

Feb 20, 2018 0

Lucknow– Khadi items made in Uttar Pradesh are now available on e-commerce portal Amazon India, after the state government on Tuesday signed an MoU in this regard with the company, an official said.

The memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed by Avinash Krishna Singh, the Chief Executive Officer of the UP Khadi Vikas Board, and Director and General Manager – Seller Services, Amazon India, Gopal Pillai in the state capital.

Briefing the media on the outreach to a “waiting, willing global market”, Navneet Sehgal, Principal Secretary – UP Khadi and Village Industries, said that Khadi products from the state would be available on Amazon under the brand name of “UP Khadi”.

By signing the MoU, Uttar Pradesh becomes the first state in the country to have entered into an agreement with Amazon to market and sell Khadi products.

With the MoU, seven Khadi-producing institutions in the state have on-boarded the platform and 40 others are in the pipeline and currently in the process of hitching onto the site, officials said.

Minister for Khadi and Village Industries Satyadev Pachauri told reporters that the state government was committed to making Khadi grow exponentially, as was the dream of Mahatma Gandhi and also envisioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Through the agreement, he added, the state government had made a successful foray into the larger domestic and global market.

“We have also given solar charkhas the industry status and this will enable people spinning Khadi to produce more and earn more while also conserving energy,” he added.

Pillai in his address said that Amazon started with 100 elders in 2013 in India and now had three lakh-plus sellers and still counting.

The signing of the MoU, he said, was to empower, educate and enable the small-time artisans to uplift their living as well as to provide them a platform to sell their products to the larger global market through the portal. (IANS)

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IT Department raids 20 premises linked to Gitanjali Group

Feb 20, 2018 0

New Delhi– The Income Tax Department on Tuesday raided 20 premises and associated firms in connection with Gitanjali Group in a tax evasion case.

The search action were conducted in Mumbai, Pune, Surat, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and few other cities against 13 companies linked to the Gitanjali Group.

Gitanjali’s chief Mehul Choksi is under investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for allegedly committing fraud amounting to Rs 11,300 crore against PNB, whose Letters of Undertaking and Foreign Letters of Credit were illegally used to raise and rollover money.

Choksi, along with other family members are said to have left the country in early January this year. (IANS)

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ED probing 120 shell companies linked to Nirav, Choksi

Feb 20, 2018 0

New Delhi–The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is probing 120 shell companies allegedly linked to dimond trader Nirav Modi and Gitanjali Group chief Mehul Choksi even as Income Tax officials claimed to have found two companies linked to Nirav that received Rs 555 crore from foreign companies between 2013 and 2014.

“The agency is investigating 79 shell companies owned by the Gitanjali Group chief and 41 owned by Modi in India,” an ED official told IANS on the condition of anonymity.

He said the agency is examining if the money taken from banks was diverted to these shell companies.

According to ED officials, Nirav Modi, Neeshal Modi, and Mehul Choksi are directors or partners in about 100 companies registered with the Registrar of Companies in Mumbai.

The ED official said: “About 40 companies of Nirav Modi are registered at one particular address — 15, Nagindas Mansion, Opera House, Mumbai. As many as 35 companies of Choksi are registered at Laxmi Tower office No 6, B Wing, First Floor, BKC, Bandra East, Mumbai.”

Modi and his uncle Choksi, along with directors of the Modi and Gitanjali groups are under investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the ED for the alleged Rs 11,300 crore fraud on Punjab National Bank, by using its Letters of Undertaking and Foreign Letters of Credit to raise and rollover money.

Both Modi and Choksi, along with other family members, are said to have left the country in early January.

The FIR also named two former bank employees for alleged direct involvement in the fraudulent transactions.

Three companies of Gitanjali Group were also named in the second CBI FIR for allegedly defrauding PNB of Rs 4,886.72 crore.

The ED official said that Hemant Bhatt, already arrested by the CBI, was a Director or partner in 28 companies.

According to the financial probe agency officials, Bhatt was Director in companies like Firestar Diamond Pvt Ltd, Paragon Jewellery Pvt Ltd, Firestone Trading Pvt Ltd, and Radhasir Jewellery Pvt Ltd. He was also a partner in firms like Neeshal Enterprises LLP, Paragon Jewellery LLP, and Paragon Merchandising LLP.

Dinesh Bhatia, whose name also appeared in the CBI’s FIR, also figured in the ED’s probe.

According to the ED official, Bhatia was offered the position of an independent Director in Gili India and Nakshatra Brand in 2015.

Beside Gili and Nakshatra, Bhatia is also a Director in Nakshatra Brands Ltd, Gitanjali Jewellery Retail Ltd, Asmi Jewellery India Ltd, and Nakshatra World Ltd.

The ED officials also claimed that Aniyath Shivraman Nair, also named in the CBI FIR, is Director or Additional Director in at least 17 companies.

He is listed as a Director of Gili India Ltd, Gitanjali Jewellery Retail Ltd, and Gitanjali Infratech Ltd.

The ED is investigating if these companies are genuinely operating or are merely shell companies.

Meanwhile, based on the documents seized during searches last year, I-T officials claimed to have found that Modi’s Firestar International Pvt Ltd had received Rs 284 crore from two companies in Cyprus and Mauritius between 2013 and 2014 in the form of share capital and high-share premium.

The department found evidence during searches that showed that documents claimed to be submitted by these foreign entities were prepared in Modi’s office. The source of funds and creditworthiness of the overseas companies were not explained properly, the I-T Department said in its report.

Further, Firestar International had received foreign funds worth Rs 271 crore from Singapore-based company Islington International Pte Ltd, whose beneficiary owner is stated to be Nirav Modi’s sister Purvi Mehta.

The I-T Department said the firm had not been able to provide necessary supporting documents of creditworthiness of Purvi Mehta or Islington. “The source of funds also remains suspicious,” the report by the investigative arm of Income Tax Department said.

ED officials have hired experts to ascertain the value of items seized during raids. Till Saturday, diamonds, gold and jewellery valued at around Rs 5,674 crore had been seized. ED officials said the valuation was done by them based on stock value and market value at showrooms.

The ED had on four days starting Friday conducted raids at 141 locations across India in connection with the PNB fraud. The agency officials said that soon it will issue letter rogatories to other countries to seek information on Nirav Modi’s transactions.

The agency said it would look into the reports submitted earlier by the Income Tax Department.

During a raid by the Director-General of Income Tax (Investigations) in January 2017, it was learnt that in 2016-17, the Nirav Modi group had illegally diverted Rs 1,216 crore worth of diamonds meant for export from its special economic zone in Surat to the domestic market, selling them in cash.

It had found that the units in the SEZ diverted high-quality diamonds imported for processing and export, to the domestic market for huge profits. Instead, low-quality diamonds were exported to associate units abroad to keep up the appearance.

“We have asked for full details about the I-T cases against Modi,” the ED official added.

The I-T Department, in an appraisal report last year, had flagged several suspected irregularities of the Nirav Modi Group companies.

In the report, I-T sleuths mentioned that the group accepted cash from customers for sale of jewellery and diamonds that were over and above the sale consideration as recorded in the account books.

The I-T authorities had confronted Nirav Modi with these findings but they did not get a satisfactory explanation.

It said that during the check period, the agency found cash receipts of over Rs 158 crore. (IANS)

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