Diamond merchant Nirav Modi on Saturday told a court that the Punjab National Bank gave a “colour of criminality” to “usual civil banking transactions” to camouflage its failures in connection with the alleged scam in which he is the main accused, PTI reported. Modi’s lawyer submitted his reply to the court in response to the Enforcement Directorate’s petition seeking to declare him a fugitive economic offender.

Nirav Modi said the bank was trying to avoid criticism. “Even though it has been attempted to be portrayed that a grave act has been committed by the accused, in reality, the same is a usual civil banking transaction, having been given a colour of criminality,” the reply said. “It can be said that the motivation for the prosecution by the Punjab National Bank is the desire of the bank to avoid its liability towards its co-bankers and put the blame...to avoid any criticism regarding poor financial performance by PNB.”

Modi cited concerns about his safety and the “politicisation of the case” as a reason for why he could not return to India. The reply mentioned violent threats made against him “as illustrated by the burning of his effigies”.

Modi claims to have replied to the Enforcement Directorate’s summons in the case.

PNB scam

Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi are being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement Directorate.

The fraud came to light in February 2018 when the bank informed the BSE that it had detected “fraudulent and unauthorised transactions” worth Rs 11,380 crore at a branch in South Mumbai. A few officials of the public sector bank had allegedly issued fraudulent Letters of Undertaking to Modi’s companies. Both Modi and Choksi left the country in Janaury, weeks before the scam became public. The bank later raised its estimate of the value of the fraud to over Rs 13,000 crore.

Choksi was granted citizenship in Antigua and Barbuda in November 2017, and is believed to have been residing there since.

The Interpol had issued a notice against Modi and his sister, Purvi Modi, in July and September this year, and against Choksi in December. A similar notice was issued against Mihir R Bhansali, a senior executive at the US branch of Modi’s business, on charges of money laundering.