New Delhi: A designated Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) authority has held that 41 properties worth about Rs12.10 billion, attached by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the name of absconding diamond jeweller Mehul Choksi and his associated firms, are money laundering assets and ordered that their attachment should continue.
The central probe agency had provisionally attached 15 flats and 17 office premises in Mumbai, a mall in Kolkata, a four-acre farm house in Alibaug and 231 acres of land at locations like Nashik, Nagpur, Panvel in Maharashtra and Villupuram in Tamil Nadu, in February this year under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in connection with the about $2 billion alleged fraud at a Mumbai-based branch of the Punjab National Bank (PNB).
“Considering the material in the original complaint (by the ED) I find that immovable properties provisionally attached are all involved in money laundering.
“I, therefore, hereby confirm the attachment of properties and order that the said attachment shall continue during investigation for a period not exceeding 90 days or the pendency of proceedings relating to any offence under the PMLA before a court and become final after an order of confiscation is passed by the special court,” a recent order issued by Member (Law) of the Adjudicating Authority of the PMLA, Tushar V Shah, said in a recent order.
The authority is a quasi-judicial body that adjudicates over PMLA attachment of assets made by the ED.
Official sources said the ED will now move to seize these properties and put up its possession signages at these locations.
The central-probe agency had issued a provisional order for attachment of these assets as part of its criminal probe against Choksi, his company Gitanjali Gems Limited and associated firms and their associates, under PMLA.
The attached assets included a 170-acre park in Hyderabad’s Ranga Reddy district valued at over Rs5 billion.
Four flats in Borivali (east) area of the Maharashtra capital and nine others in Khemu Towers in Santacruz (east) have also been attached as part of the action.
“The total value of the 41 seized assets controlled by Choksi is estimated over Rs12.10 billion,” the ED had said.
Choksi and designer diamond jewellery businessman Nirav Modi and others are being investigated by the ED and other probe agencies after the bank fraud came to light early this year, following a complaint by the PNB that they allegedly cheated the nationalised bank to the tune of Rs120 billion, with the purported involvement of a few employees of the bank
The CBI and the ED have registered two FIRs each to probe the case. Both Choksi and Modi left the country before criminal cases were lodged against them. They had denied any wrongdoing.
Choksi is at present based in the Caribbean nation of Antigua and India has sought his extradition from that country.
The ED, a central probe agency under the union finance ministry, is investigating if the allegedly defrauded bank funds were laundered and proceeds of crime were subsequently used by the accused to create illegal assets and black money.