Winsome assets of Rs 172 cr frozen

As bad loans mount, the government is adopting stricter stance towards wilful defaulters. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Tuesday seized the properties of Winsome Diamonds and Jewellery, one of the country’s biggest bank loan defaulters. The company owes over $1 billion to 14 public and private banks and is facing criminal investigations under anti-money laundering laws.

“The probe agency has attached 16-17 properties/assets worth over Rs 172 crore. The said properties are spread across Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Surat, Kolkata and Bangalore,” a top ED official told Business Standard.

The properties, mostly real estate, were attached under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). Certain plants and machinery, including collaterals kept with the banks, have also been seized. The collateral security provided by Winsome is worth just about Rs 250 crore.

ENFORCEMENT DIRECTORATE

On Tuesday seized the properties of Winsome Diamonds and Jewellery

ONE OF THE BIGGEST BANK LOAN DEFAULTERS

The company owes over $1 billion to 14 public and private banks under anti-money laundering laws

PROPERTIES FROZEN

Under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), and include mostly real estate, and plants and machinery (including collateral kept with the banks).

Meanwhile, the enforcement agency has also put a requisition for Letter Rogatory (LR), seeking judicial assistance of foreign countries in probing the case, especially in Dubai. A special PMLA court is yet to issue the order for the same. An e-mail sent to Winsome in this regard did not elicit a response.

Winsome owes Rs 4,680 crore to a consortium of banks, headed by Standard Chartered Bank. Its associate firm Forever Precious Jewellery and Diamonds owes another Rs 2,121.82 crore to a set of banks, led by Punjab National Bank (PNB). This makes Winsome group the second-largest wilful defaulter after Kingfisher Airlines.

“PNB alone had an exposure of Rs 1,650 crore. It is suspected that this money was diverted either out of the country or to other projects,” the ED official added.

Last year, PNB filed a case with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against Winsome Diamonds and Forever Precious Jewellery and Diamonds for recovery of Rs 900 crore and Rs 747 crore, respectively. Jatin Mehta is the promoter-director of both the firms.

CBI is probing the money trail and the timeline of deterioration in the diamond firms’ operations and accounts, said a source close to developments.

The move was triggered after Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in April 2015, seeking stern action against the top 10 wilful defaulters of bank loans.

Starting March 2013, Winsome group started having problems in repaying the loans. The banks sent a notice to it as a wilful defaulter on October 15, 2013. In the same year, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) referred the case to CBI for criminal investigation.

Jatin Mehta reportedly told the banks that the firms’ buyers in the UAE had defaulted on payments, making it impossible for him to repay the loans. According to Mehta, the buyers suffered losses of $1 billion in derivatives and commodities.

According to Winsome’s 2012-13 annual report, Jordanian national Haytham Ali Salman Abu Obidah, owner of Italian Gold FZE, the main distributor of Winsome Diamonds in the UAE, introduced the Indian firm to several distributors in 2012. All of these firms were directly or indirectly connected to Obidah.

“The strange nature of its so-called distributor raised several questions about Winsome’s distribution network. Besides, the group used to export gold jewellery and coins to 28 entities in Dubai and West Asia that were owned by Mehta and family. All such activities of the company are now under the scanner,” added the source in the Enforcement Directorate.

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