Nirav Modi, India’s jeweler to Hollywood stars, accused of massive bank fraud

Nirav Modi’s name is a stamp of corporate India’s growing global prestige. On Hollywood red carpets, his diamonds have sparkled on the necklines and dangled from the earlobes of actors and models like Kate Winslet, Dakota Johnson and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

Back in India, billboards above the traffic jams of New Delhi bear the image of Priyanka Chopra, a Bollywood star and former Miss World who is fast becoming a household name in the United States, also draped in Modi’s jewels.

Actress Priyanka Chopra, the global brand ambassador for Nirav Modi, is seeking legal opinion to terminate her contract now that the jeweler has been accused of committing a major banking fraud, her spokesperson said on Feb. 15.

Officials at the nation’s federal investigative agency announced it was looking for Modi as law enforcement officials fanned out to raid his jewelry stores and other businesses in Mumbai and New Delhi.

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials told reporters the agency had on Feb. 4 issued a lookout circular in the country for Modi, who they say had left four weeks earlier.

Modi has not yet responded to the allegations and could not be reached for comment. His flagship company, Firestar Diamond, has said it had no involvement in the case. The setback in Modi’s climb to fame and fortune was abrupt, even by the rough-and-tumble standards of one of the world’s fastest growing major economies.

Amid revelations that Nirav Modi was the prime accused in a Rs 11,515 crore fraud involving the Punjab National Bank, there was speculation that Chopra would sue the brand for non-payment of dues.

“There are speculative reports that Priyanka Chopra has sued Nirav Modi. This is not true. However, she is currently seeking legal opinion with respect to terminating her contract with the brand in light of allegations of financial fraud against Nirav Modi,” the spokesperson said in a statement. Nirav Modi’s name is a stamp of corporate India’s growing global prestige. On Hollywood red carpets, his diamonds have sparkled on the necklines and dangled from the earlobes of actors and models like Kate Winslet, Dakota Johnson and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

The news was a shock for the circles in which Modi moved. As recently as last month, he was at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Indian media carried a group photograph with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the foreground and Nirav Modi, who is no relation, grinning between rows of Indian business leaders behind him.

“Top industrialists invited him home to display his collections,” said a Mumbai investment banker at a U.S.-based firm who has worked directly with Modi’s company. “There was a personal touch in everything he sold. Nirav Modi is a brand.”

Firestar Group, the parent company Modi controls as a majority shareholder, saw its revenue grow over three years from 103 billion rupees (about $1.6 billion at current rates) to some 147 billion rupees ($2.3 billion) by the 2016-17 fiscal year, according to figures previously provided by the company.

In 2010, Modi launched an eponymous jewellery business branded NIRAV MODI, in capitals, with the tagline “Haut Diamantaire”. New boutiques in Las Vegas and Hawaii have since been added to a stable that stretches from New York to London to Beijing.

He became a man whose diamond necklaces were sold, with his name attached, by Sotheby’s: “pure feminine elegance,” says a Hong Kong auction catalogue note of one 85.33 carat diamond necklace.

The auction house posted an online slideshow of jewellery-on-stars at the 2017 Oscars and highlighted supermodel Karlie Kloss having “a major Nirav Modi moment with her diamond ‘Mughal’ choker.”

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