NEW DELHI: Where is Nirav Modi? Indian law enforcement agencies are unaware of the whereabouts of the fugitive diamantaire, but finance professionals and service providers who had dealt with him in the past suspect that Modi, like his uncle Mehul Choksi, may have already opted for citizenship of another country like Malta — the Mediterranean island nation — or, a European Union member which offers citizenship and residency status to foreigners who are willing to invest.
According to them, Modi, despite having connections and family links in Antwerp, the diamond hub, is unlikely to have opted for a citizenship in that country due to Belgium’s laws of taxing the global income of citizens.
“Malta is safer and more stable than some of the Caribbean jurisdictions. Perhaps, it should not come as a surprise if he had already applied for citizenship somewhere in the EU well before Punjab National Bank raised hue and cry in January,” said a tax professional.
Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi are accused in the Rs 14,000 crore fraud that involved companies owned by them raising finance against letters of undertaking (or quasi-guarantees) issued by the state-owned PNB. Even though Malta — like Antigua (where Mehul Choksi a citizen) — is a Commonwealth country, legal circles believe that invoking the extradition clause could be a complicated and long-drawn process.
“In the case of a possible extradition of any fugitive offender, it is extremely important to know his exact location and identity. A few scenarios which need immediate attention are as follows: First, it is important to know which nationality he belongs to and to also ascertain whether he is a citizen of a particular country and a resident of another. It is only after gathering all the above information, can the government begin the process of extradition. Needless to say, men taking that path would invest substantial intelligence and research in identifying a country which suits them best, should the Indian Government initiate proceedings, even if that country is a Commonwealth member,” said Zulfiquar Memon, managing partner at MZM Legal.
Many resident Indians planning to move out choose permanent residency in countries like Malta, Portugal and Greece as there is no living requirement, said an official with a consultancy offering immigration and citizenship assistance. “People with young children prefer Malta due to its education and health care system. Those at immigrating through real estate investment opt for Portugal or Greece to derive rental income,” she said. Malta allows visa-free travel to over 166 countries, including the US and Canada, and the right to live and work in EU countries, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The investment requirement for the citizenship is Euro 850,000.
A Look-out Notice was issued against Nirav Modi by the Bureau of Immigration on February 22 at the instance of the Income tax department. The notice is valid till 2019. Recently, the tax department issued three notices against Modi under the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015.