Indian investigators raid billionaire jeweller's offices

Mumbai (AFP) - Indian investigators on Thursday raided the premises of a billionaire jeweller accused of defrauding one of the country's biggest banks.

Enforcement Directorate (ED) officers searched the Mumbai offices of Nirav Modi after he was accused of cheating state-owned Punjab National Bank (PNB) of 2.8 billion rupees ($43.8 million).

Footage broadcast on Indian television news channels showed officers entering one of Modi's jewellery showrooms in the south of India's financial capital.

The Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency reported that investigators searched around half a dozen locations in Mumbai, including Modi's home, as well as stores in New Delhi and Surat.

A spokesman for the ED refused to comment when contacted by AFP.

Modi is one of India's richest men. He is worth $1.73 billion according to Forbes, placing him 85th on India's rich list.

The 47-year-old is the founder of jewellery giant Firestar Diamond. His high-end Nirav Modi brand has stores in several of the world's major cities.

Thursday's raids came a day after the ED registered a money laundering case against Modi and a few others, including members of his family and a business associate.

It followed PNB's complaint last month to India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that it had been defrauded of 2.8 billion rupees.

The bank, India's second-largest state-owned lender, announced on Wednesday that it had also detected fraud of almost $1.8 billion at a single branch in Mumbai, sending its shares plummeting.

It made fresh allegations against Modi to the CBI, according to PTI.

The news agency, citing officials, reported on Thursday that Modi had left India on January 1, before the bank detected either of the two fraud cases.

Modi has not commented on the allegations. Firestar Diamond has previously said the earlier case was not connected to the company.

In January, he was photographed alongside Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The two are not related.

The trouble comes as India's government is trying to reduce the crippling debts of the country's embattled lenders, including PNB.

It recently announced a $32-billion recapitalisation plan for state-owned banks to help them clean up their books.

PNB shares were down almost nine percent in early afternoon trade Thursday.