How gaps in India’s passport rules may have helped Nirav Modi cross borders

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByJayanth Jacob and Rajesh Ahuja
Jun 20, 2018 02:41 PM IST

Once passport is revoked, the information gets fed into a system that is expected to be shared world over, making the travel of Indian passport holder legally impossible

There’s confusion over how Nirav Modi, the main accused in the Punjab National Bank fraud case, has been able to travel internationally despite India revoking his passport. Hindustan Times explains how the revocation process works and the gaps in the system that may have helped the fugitive jeweler.

A file photo of Nirav Modi at his office in Lower Parel in Mumbai.(Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint)
A file photo of Nirav Modi at his office in Lower Parel in Mumbai.(Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint)

How is an Indian passport revoked and on what grounds?

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The Indian Passport Act of 1967 explains the grounds for revoking and impounding a passport by the issuing authority in the external affairs ministry. The grounds include the following: suppression of material information or provision of wrong information; obtaining another passport; in the interests of the ‘sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of India, friendly relations of India with any foreign country, or in the interests of the general public’; if the holder has been ‘convicted’ for any offence to imprisonment for not less than two years; if proceedings in respect of an offence are pending before a criminal court.

It can also be revoked if it is brought to the notice of the passport authority that a warrant or summons for the appearance, or a warrant for the arrest, of the holder of the passport or travel document has been issued by a court under any law for the time being in force or if an order prohibiting the departure from India of the holder of the passport or other travel document has been made by any such court and the passport authority is satisfied that a warrant or summons has been so issued or an order has been so made.

What happens after a passport is revoked?

Once the passport is revoked, the external affairs ministry makes the entry in the internal data base to show it as revoked. The same information is given out to immigration authorities so that the holder of a passport cannot use the revoked document to travel out of the country. The holder of the passport is told to return the passport to the nearest passport office to cancel it physically.

Externally, the MEA informs the investigative agency on the revocation of passport who in turn informs Interpol who issue alert notice and include the wanted person’s name in their database.

In the case of Nirav Modi, the ministry informed the CBI about the same. CBI said on February 15 they got a diffusion issued by Interpol against Nirav Modi. Diffusion is a request for cooperation or alert mechanism. This is less formal than a notice but is also used to request the arrest or location of an individual or additional information in relation to a police investigation. A diffusion is circulated directly by the nodal investigative agency of the country with the Interpol (In India, its CBI) to the member countries of their choice, or to the entire INTERPOL membership and is simultaneously recorded in INTERPOL’s Information System.

What is the interface with Interpol?

CBI is the nodal agency for interacting with Interpol and it acts as Interpol, India for any request that comes from other member countries for seeking assistance in probe. Any request for seeking help of Interpol for any investigation related matter from any state police is also routed through CBI.

Once passport is revoked, can an Indian national travel internationally?

Ideally, no. The information of revoking an Indian passport gets fed into a system that is expected to be shared world over, making the travel of Indian passport holder legally impossible. Interpol is the world’s largest international police organization, with 192 member countries.

What happened in the case of Nirav Modi when was the passport revoked?

On the advice of the Enforcement Directorate, the passport-issuing authority in the external affairs ministry suspended the validity of passports of Nirav Modi and Mehul Chinubhai Choksi with immediate effect for a period of four weeks on February 16, asking them to furnish reasons as to why their passports should not be revoked in a week’s time. After they failed to respond, the passports were revoked on February 23, 2018. CBI’s official spokesperson has said “after getting diffusion notice against Modi issued through Interpol on February 15, we also got information about his revoked passport updated in Interpol’s database. Following this, we identified six countries where we suspected he could move. We kept in touch with all these countries through their Interpol offices. We kept writing to them, reminding them on almost weekly basis”

How could he travel on a revoked passport?

Diffusion notice is unlike a Red Corner notice doesn’t mandate an arrest of the person. So the countries, Nirav Modi, had travelled to might have ignored the diffusion notice. It is yet unclear how he managed to travel considering different agencies are saying different things. For example, ED officials said he used six passports, CBI said he travelled on revoked passports and MEA officials aid all his five previous passports were physically cancelled and the only Indian travel document he had as per their records was revoked on February 23. But is also being suspected that all earlier copies of Nirav Modi’s passport may not have been stamped as cancelled and he may used one of them to travel after revocation of his only active Indian passport.

What happens when an Indian passport is swiped in international airport outside?

It records entry/exit. The immigration offices have different data bases such as the passport details of wanted persons shared by Interpol, similar requests made by other countries. So the entry is checked against these data as well.

How is the database maintained and checked?

Once a passport is revoked, the detail is submitted to the Interpol database for such passports. The database is accessible to all member countries. It is up to the member countries to act upon it. CBI not only updated the Interpol database after revocation of Nirav Modi’s passport but took up the issue with six countries – the US, the UK, France, the UAE, Singapore and Belgium- where it was suspected that Nirav may go. But among the six countries only the UK has submitted details about entries and exits of Nirav from Heathrow on June 5. The details are upto March 31. There is no further communication from these countries, say CBI officials. Besides, India had also sent separate request through MEA to Hong Kong for arresting Nirav.

Is there an Indian passport data base?

The Interpol data on revoked passports is also available to Indian immigration authorities.

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