File image of Nirav Modi. (Source: Twitter Page of Nirav Modi Jewels) 

Indian Diamond Tycoon Accused of $2 Billion Fraud Arrested in London, Police Say

(Bloomberg) -- Nirav Modi, who allegedly defrauded an Indian state-run bank of $2 billion, was denied bail by a London judge who said there were "substantial risks" that the celebrity jeweler could flee while the country seeks his extradition.

U.K. police arrested Modi on Tuesday at the request of Indian authorities as he opened a bank account. The tycoon, who dressed stars including Kate Winslet, Dakota Johnson and Priyanka Chopra, faces charges of fraudulently acquiring guarantees from Punjab National Bank that was later used to obtain loans from abroad, according to complaints filed by the lender.

Judge Marie Mallon made the ruling in a London court on Wednesday, after Modi, wearing a white button down shirt and black trousers, said he would fight extradition.

"He very strongly contests the allegations," Modi’s lawyer, George Hepburne Scott, told the judge. A preliminary hearing in Modi’s extradition case was set for March 29.

Extraditing Modi, and other tycoons including Vijay Mallya, a colorful beer baron who now lives in London after an airline he owned defaulted on $1.3 billion in loans, is becoming an election issue for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who’s no relation to Nirav. Prosecuting wealthy individuals accused of breaking the law could boost the prime minister’s image ahead of polls due to start next month. Mallya and Nirav Modi deny the allegations.

“It’s a success” for the prime minister’s “efforts in catching defaulters.’’ said Harish Ramaswamy, a political analyst and professor of political science at Karnataka University. “Congress is losing issues and will have to be defensive. It will go in BJP’s favor.’’

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Modi had been in touch with authorities to arrange to turn himself in at a London police station next week, Hepburne Scott said. However, when he went to open a bank account on Tuesday, an employee at the branch alerted authorities, triggering the arrest, he said.

Modi grew up in Antwerp, the son and grandson of diamantaires, according to his website. Apart from India, he had boutiques in cities including New York, London, Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Kate Winslet had worn Modi’s creations at the 2016 Oscars. In 2017, Modi had signed up Priyanka Chopra -- star of the U.S. TV series Quantico -- as his brand ambassador.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.