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Just who is Nirav Modi?

February 16, 2018 08:25 IST

No one knows where billionaire Nirav Modi emerged from.

What is known is that when he came (back) to India, he cut his teeth in the diamond business under the tutelage of his jeweller uncle.

Then he began to build a glittering international brand. Soon even Hollywood stars like Kate Winslet and Dakota Johnson were walking the red carpet showing off Nirav Modi jewels. 

Jeweller Nirav Modi greets their royal highnesses, Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at  the Elephant Parade India at the British High Commissioner’s residence, New Delhi in November 2017. Photograph Courtesy Nirav Modi/Facebook.

IMAGE: Jeweller Nirav Modi greets their royal highnesses, Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at the Elephant Parade India held at the British High Commissioner's residence, New Delhi in November 2017. Photograph Courtesy Nirav Modi/Facebook.

For a billionaire who emerged from nowhere and planted his flag on the Mumbai landscape, the question on everyone's lips was: Who is Nirav Modi?

 

It was a valid one, given the sudden emergence of his luxury diamond brand and the multiple billboards around prominent neighbourhoods, like south Mumbai and Bandra, featuring model Lisa Haydon started popping up in 2015.

In his own words, the story Modi portrayed to the public, then, was that he was born to Indian parents.

The Nirav Modi boutique, Bond street, Mayfair, London. Photograph: Courtesy Nirav Modi/Facebook.

IMAGE: The Nirav Modi boutique, Bond street, Mayfair, London. Photograph: Courtesy Nirav Modi/Facebook.

His father, also a diamond jeweller, had migrated to Belgium to set up a trading business there. Nirav had to unexpectedly drop out of college -- Wharton -- when his father's business started to stutter. He had to come back and take charge.

A-lister Priyanka Chopra is the brand ambassador for Nirav Modi jewellery. Photograph: Courtesy Nirav Modi/Facebook.

IMAGE: A-lister Priyanka Chopra is the brand ambassador for Nirav Modi jewellery. Photograph: Courtesy Nirav Modi/Facebook. 

Consequently, Modi came back to India and cut his teeth in the diamond trade under the tutelage of his jeweller uncle Mehul Choksi, who was running the listed company, Gitanjali Gems, which has in recent years also come under the scanner for allegations of fraud.

The 46-year-old Modi has always had two operations: A diamond trading concern called Firestar Diamond. The other is a retail brand called Nirav Modi, which he had harboured ambitions for building into a global luxury label -- the first of its kind from Asia, he once said.

With that aim in mind Modi opened international stores on 5th Avenue in New York, on old Bond street in Mayfair, London and in Hong Kong and Macao.

Nirav Modi's father was a diamond jeweller who migrated to Belgium to set up a trading business there. Nirav had to unexpectedly drop out of college -- Wharton -- when his father's business started to stutter. Photograph: Courtesy Nirav Modi/Facebook.

IMAGE: Nirav Modi's father was a diamond jeweller who migrated to Belgium to set up a trading business there. Nirav had to unexpectedly drop out of college -- Wharton -- when his father's business started to stutter. Photograph: Courtesy Nirav Modi/Facebook.

To date, the billboards remain. But with one change: Model Haydon was replaced by A-lister Priyanka Chopra.

The art collection in his Kamala Mills office which includes an Rs 100-million Amrita Sher-Gil oil painting near his desk, the vintage Bentley car, using international actresses and models as brand ambassadors, hiring former Facebook India executive and country head Kirthiga Reddy as an international board advisor and the penchant for all things luxurious, seemed to indicate Modi was serious about building an international quality label.

Except for one small detail, that didn't entirely add up for a newly-started business.

The interiors of the Nirav Modi boutique on Bond street, Mayfair, London. Photograph: Courtesy Nirav Modi/Facebook.

IMAGE: The interiors of the Nirav Modi store on Bond street, Mayfair, London. Photograph: Courtesy Nirav Modi/Facebook.

Where was the money coming from?

If the accusations made by the Central Bureau of Investigation in a Press Trust of India news report are true, then it was from the banks.

The news report said Modi, and his partners in Diamon R US, Solar Exports and Stellar Diamonds, were accused of cheating Punjab National Bank of Rs 2.8 billion.

Consequently, the CBI had registered PNB's First Information Report under Indian Penal Code sections related to criminal conspiracy, cheating and provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act, sources say.

Jeweller Nirav Modi poses with American supermodel Karlie Kloss at a Halloween charity event in New York City in October 2017. Photograph: Courtesy Nirav Modi/Facebook

IMAGE: Jeweller Nirav Modi poses with American supermodel Karlie Kloss at a Halloween charity event in New York City in October 2017. Photograph: Courtesy Nirav Modi/Facebook.

While Firestone is a healthy firm financially, its initial public offering plans might now be delayed, said investment bankers as investors would take a closer look at the numbers.

Modi, who divides his time between New York and Mumbai, said that his public relations firm would be issuing a statement which came later by e-mail and said: “This matter has no affiliation, legal or otherwise with Firestar International, which is the flagship enterprise of Nirav Modi.”

Hollywood star Dakota Johnson on the Golden Globes red carpet wearing Nirav Modi' Nirav Modi's cascade earrings. Photograph: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters.

IMAGE: Hollywood star Dakota Johnson on the Golden Globes red carpet wearing Nirav Modi's cascade earrings. Photograph: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters.

Over the past few years, Modi managed to build a brand with a cocktail of glamour, big-ticket boutiques and the right affiliations.

Restoring confidence with his lenders and stakeholders before his IPO may be an uphill journey.

Pavan Lall
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