According to Santosh Srivastava, a former employee of Gitanjali Gems, Mehul Choksi could be the mastermind, architecting the PNB scam. Fraudulent letters of undertaking (LoU) were raised by PNB's employees and then payments initiated through a SWIFT system, resulting in a systemic embezzlement of Rs 11,400 crore.
Srivastava said that the modus operandi of higher valuations on bogus stocks was a practice mastered by Mehul Choksi, and hence he must have been the mastermind. Although Nirav Modi was a director and partner to many companies of Choksi, he must have learnt the tricks of scamming people from his uncle. Choksi has been reported to have purchased artificial or lab-processed diamonds and then seeking credits on them.
Unlike real diamonds, lab-processed diamonds are made in a scientific laboratory, and very difficult to differentiate from the real ones. In international trade circles, a debate still persists on whether to consider lab-processed diamonds as fakes.
Srivastava appeared on Ravish Kumar's prime time show on NDTV , and was subsequently interviewed by other news mediums. He served as a National Sales Head at Tata, and worked with Gitanjali as the Vice President for its retail division and then the Managing Director. Srivastava mostly handled all the functions, except for legal, accounting and financial aspects, which dealt by Choksi and his team.
On the NDTV show, Srivastava who was introduced as a whistleblower, said that he saw patterns of dubious transactions. Banks suddenly offered loans for stocks (Bullion and gold jewellery), but then the stock and loan never tallied. The stock that arrived was usually lower in quantity, to the quantum of loans disbursed.
There were dubious transactions in the franchisee business too. Complaints were raised by Hari Prasad, a disgruntled franchisee owner from Bengaluru and Digvijay Singh Jadeja, another franchisee owner from Bhavnagar, Gujarat.
- I screamed in court against Choksi and Gitanjali Gems, but nobody heard me back then: Digvijay Jadeja
- I alerted PMO of a Rs 9800-crore dodgy loan to Mehul Choksi in 2016: Hari Prasad
Speaking about the retail business, Srivastava said, the stock offered to franchisees was mostly over-valued and hence non-saleable. In a Firstpost story, Srivastava was quoted saying that the suspicion arose some time around 2012-13. And subsequently complaints were made to Serious Fraud Investigation Office, the Enforcement Directorate as well as Ministry of Finance, but to no avail.
The PMO responded to a complaint, forwarding it to the Registrar of companies, which subsequently diluted the efforts of the whistleblowers by closing the file in two days flat. Srivastav had resigned by 2013.
Choksi and Gitanjali in later years pressurized Srivastava, Hari Prasad and the other franchisees into false cases. A case was filed against Srivastava and franchisees with the Economic Offences Wing (EOW). An inquiry by the EOW revealed that Gitanjali's stand was unjustified, and the case was lodged only to create fear among franchisees and Srivastava.
The EOW in its submission highlighted dubious transactions and accounting standards, which were not taken up by legal authorities for examination.
Srivastav and Neha Dhupia, during a branch-inauguration in Delhi during 2012. Pic Courtesy: Missmalini.com
Ever since the PNB story broke out, Mehul Choksi has been on the run. His lawyer says that he may be located in the US. The image that the whistleblower has portrayed about Choksi is in stark contrast to the man who was previously shown as a soft-natured, soft-spoken man, from television interviews conducted between 2013-15.
When Srivastava encountered Choksi with the anomalies in company reports, an irritated Choksi retorted "Tumko pagar mil raha hai na, apna kaam karo". [Aren't you are getting paid! Do your work!]
When Srivastava encountered him agian, a furious Choksi threatened him, saying, "Aise aise cases main fasa denge, ki zindagi bhar nikal nahi paaoge, [We will book you in cases that you will not be spared for life!]"
From the statements, it is quite evident that Choksi was a wilful defaulter. A man who at free will looted a national bank, robbed investor trust, snatched away employees belief. The world may have branded Choksi a traitor, but not his protege cum nephew- Nirav Modi, who seems smitten into joining his maama in the Rs 11400 crore scam.