Nirav Modi, a billionaire jeweler

Indian billionaire accused of defrauding Indian bank of US$2.2B, believed to be on the run using SG passport

ST reported on Monday (11 Jun) that Nirav Modi, a billionaire jeweler at the heart of a more than US$2 billion fraud case in India, has fled to the UK, where he is claiming political asylum ('Indian billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi flees to UK, claiming political asylum').

Punjab National Bank, India's second-largest state-run bank, announced early this year that two jewelry groups headed by Nirav Modi and his uncle had defrauded the bank of about US$2.2 billion by raising credit from overseas branches of other Indian banks using illegal guarantees issued by rogue PNB staff at a Mumbai branch over several years. Nirav Modi has denied the charges.

Nirav Modi tried to claim political asylum in London, from what he calls "political persecution" by the Indian government.

India's Ministry of External Affairs told the media that it is waiting for the country's law enforcement agencies to approach them before pushing for an extradition, which had thus far not happened.

But ST did not disclose that Nirav Modi could in fact be traveling using a Singapore passport. That is to say, he is possibly a Singaporean now with citizenship granted by the Singapore government.

Fled to Brussels

Times of India revealed today ('Nirav Modi flees to Brussels, believed to be travelling on Singapore passport', 14 Jun) that the absconding billionaire jeweler is understood to have jumped on a plane and fled to Brussels on Tuesday or Wednesday, immediately after the media reported that he was in London seeking political asylum and that the Indian high commission was awaiting formal confirmation of his presence from the British government.

"The diamond merchant, wanted in India's biggest-ever banking scam, is said to be traveling in and out of the UK freely, possibly on a Singapore passport, not an Indian one," Times of India reported.

"He traveled to Brussels on Tuesday or Wednesday, straight after the story revealing he was in Mayfair," a source close to the Indian government told the Times of India.

"The Indian government has been informed by Interpol that there has been no movement detected on his Indian passport since March 31 so he is definitely not using his Indian passport. If he is on a Singapore passport, the Indian government can't do anything as the non-bailable warrant is against his Indian passport. They would need to put pressure on the Singapore government. This leads to an issue between the Indian government and Interpol," the source said.

It's not known how he could have gotten a Singapore passport but sources at the Indian high commission in London said, "Money can buy anything."

Foreigner can immediately become Singapore PR with $2.5 million

Indeed, the Singapore government does run a Global Investor Programme under Contact Singapore.

Contact Singapore is a one stop centre founded in 2008, for rich foreign entrepreneurs and business owners who are interested in relocating to and investing in Singapore.

Its website said, "We advise family businesses on their entry and stay in Singapore. Whether creating new businesses or expanding businesses in Singapore, we connect entrepreneurs and business owners with relevant partners to facilitate their decision making to establish strategic activities in Singapore. Contact Singapore also administers the Global Investor Programme, which accords Singapore Permanent Residence status to investors with substantial business track record and successful entrepreneurial background who intend to drive their business and investment growth from Singapore."

Touching on the point of improving lives of Singaporeans in 2013, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, “In fact, if I can get another 10 billionaires to move to Singapore and set up their base here, my Gini coefficient will get worse but I think Singaporeans will be better off, because they will bring in business, bring in opportunities, open new doors and create new jobs, and I think that is the attitude with which we must approach this problem.”

Under the Global Investor Programme (GIP), rich investors are eligible to apply for immediate Permanent Residency (PR) in Singapore. They are required to make the following investments:

  1. Option A: Invest at least S$2.5 million in a new business entity or expansion of an existing business operation.
  2. Option B: Invest at least S$2.5 million in a GIP fund.