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Scam robs Antwerp boy of shine

Nirav Modi - the 47-year-old diamantaire at the centre of a massive financial fraud that has rocked Punjab National Bank - spent his boyhood in the streets of Antwerp, dropped out of Wharton and then travelled to India's city of dreams with the desire to craft an Asian jewellery brand whose sparkle would not be dimmed by the hauteur of a Cartier, Chopard or Van Cleef and Arpels.

By Our Bureau in Mumbai
  • Published 15.02.18
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Mumbai: Nirav Modi - the 47-year-old diamantaire at the centre of a massive financial fraud that has rocked Punjab National Bank - spent his boyhood in the streets of Antwerp, dropped out of Wharton and then travelled to India's city of dreams with the desire to craft an Asian jewellery brand whose sparkle would not be dimmed by the hauteur of a Cartier, Chopard or Van Cleef and Arpels.

He seemed to be well on his way when he snapped up a magnificent 12.29-carat diamond from the famous Golconda mine and then proceeded to fashion it into a stunning necklace with the pear-shaped diamond at the centre surrounded by pink diamonds that were held together by a latticework of its patented Aindra cut diamond links.

Called the Golconda Lotus necklace, it caused a stir when it went under the hammer at a Christie's auction in Hong Kong in 2010 for $3.6 million (just over Rs 16 crore at the prevailing exchange rate at that time).

Modi and his brother Neeshal cut their teeth in the diamond business under the tutelage of their maternal uncle Mehul Choksi, owner of the well-known Gitanjali Gems.

He broke out on his own sometime in 1999 when he set up Firestar Diamond. He has opened boutique stores across the world - from Madison Avenue in New York to London's Bond Street, and from Honolulu in Hawai to Macau, Hong Kong and Beijing.

In India, he has three grand stores - a 6,000-square-feet store at Kala Ghoda in South Mumabi and two in Delhi at Chanakyapuri and Defence Colony.

He is a designated partner in four enterprises: Neeshal Enterprises LLP, Paragon Jewellery LLP, Paragon Merchandising LLP and Panchajanya Diamonds LLP.

His website, niravmodi.com, carries the picture of actress Priyanka Chopra wearing the majestic Mogok Ruby Suite - 27 ravishing rubies from the Mogok mines in Myanmar that required two years of sourcing to finally craft into an exquisite necklace.

Modi's grandfather was a diamond trader who was among the early Indian settlers in Singapore. His father Deepak shifted base to Antwerp in Belgium and traded in diamond roughs.

His biggest talent was in sourcing diamonds. He had started off by buying diamond roughs from De Beers but quickly switched to Alrosa of Russia and the Australian miner Argyle.

The young jeweller had been dogged by allegations in the past that he violated import-export norms but they have never stuck.

The latest set of accusations may be harder to shake off, now that the sleuths from the Central Bureau of Investigation are on his tail.