Aura Gem, with $30 mn from PNB, has origins in British Virgin Islands

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 02:56:00 GMT
Deborshi Chaki

Mumbai: Aura Gem Co. Ltd, a Nirav Modi-linked firm based in Hong Kong that received $30 million credit against fraudulently obtained Punjab National Bank (PNB) guarantees, has its origins in British Virgin Islands, a tax haven also home to various entities named in the Panama papers money laundering case.

Billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi of Gitanjali Gems are seen at the centre of the Rs11,400 crore PNB fraud. Photo: PTI

According to documents filed by Aura Gem at the Registrar of Companies in Hong Kong, the firm was incorporated in the city state on 28 May 2010 by Atlantic Sensor Ltd, almost a year before the PNB fraud began in 2011. Atlantic Sensor is also incorporated in the British Virgin islands, but there is no information on its shareholders.

The British Virgin Islands link has appeared in several suspected transactions involving money laundering, including the Panama papers leak, in which the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published details of 214,000 offshore entities created in 21 jurisdictions across the world in 2016.

In 2012, Atlantic Sensor ceased to be the holding firm of Aura Gem, transferring its entire shareholding in the firm to a Dubai-based individual named Sonu Shailesh Mehta. Mehta remained Aura Gem’s sole director till 2016, when Divyesh Kumar Gandhi, another Hong Kong-based individual, was appointed director.

According to several people aware of the ongoing investigations, who spoke on condition of anonymity, agencies are expected to probe the identities of all firms named in the first information report (FIR) filed by PNB, including Aura Gems, Sino Traders Ltd (Hong Kong), Sunshine Gems Ltd (Hong Kong) and a few UAE-based firms, which collectively received more than $45 million against letters of undertaking issued by PNB in February.

“It needs to be properly investigated whether this particular company or any other company named in the FIR was used as a conduit to siphon away funds fraudulently,” said Rajesh Gupta, managing partner at SNG & Partners, a Mumbai-based corporate law firm specializing in banking. Requests for comment sent to the auditor and company secretary of Aura Gem remained unanswered till press time.

Mint reported on Sunday that law enforcement agencies were scrutinizing 200 suspected shell firms belonging to absconding jeweller Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi, named in the Rs11,400 crore PNB fraud.