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Amid strain in trade ties and fights at the World Trade Organization (WTO), commerce minister Suresh Prabhu will leave for Washington DC on June 10, his first visit after the Trump administration slapped duties on Indian steel and aluminium.
The minister will convey India’s viewpoints on contentious issues, including duties on Indian metals, to US trade representative Robert E Lighthizer and others, and explore business opportunities, sources told FE.
Prabhu’s visit comes at a critical time when efforts to persuade the US to exempt India from the duty on steel and aluminium or view New Delhi’s export subsidies in proper context haven’t yet yielded results. Both the sides have dragged each other to the WTO in recent months: the US has lodged complaints against India’s export and farm subsidies, while India has raised objections to duties on Indian steel and aluminium and massive illegal subsidies in the renewable energy and agriculture sectors. While the much-feared US-China trade war is de-escalating, there is no sign of an abatement in the Indo-US trade tussles yet.
“Prabhu’s visit will lend more clarity as to where both the sides are heading. Maybe, it will break the ice,” said the source. The commerce minister will also talk about Indo-US cooperation in making civil and defence aircraft in India, the source added. Commerce secretary Rita Teaotia is expected to visit as well.
In the last meeting of senior trade officials of both the countries in New Delhi, the US is learnt to have sought better trade balance with India and removal of restrictions on pricing of medical equipment such as bioresorbable stents. To keep up pressure, the US side, led by its assistant trade representative Mark Linscott, didn’t commit on lifting the tariff on supplies of steel and aluminium, apart from suggesting that India’s concerns will be conveyed to the relevant authorities in Washington.
The US has announced plans to impose a duty of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium imports from select countries, including India.
While China alone accounted for a massive $375 billion, or 46%, of the US goods trade deficit of $810 billion in 2017, India made up for just 2.8% and occupied the 9th spot in the list of the nations with which the Trump administration seeks to pursue a trade balance agenda.
CBI has recorded statements of two important witnesses during its probe into the Rs 13,578 crore scam — Rahul Sisodiya, a junior accountant in Nirav Modi’s company, and peon-cum-office boy Ravindra Dinkar Hindelkar. TOI accessed their statements. Both the statements, submitted in the court along with the chargesheet, reveal interesting details about the ‘conspiracy’ to remove evidence.
“On February 14, 2018, Miten Pandya (employee of Nirav Modi who was arrested and chargesheeted by CBI), instructed me, Ravindra (the peon) and other 2-3 office boys of Firestar Group, to shift the documents, which included the office copies of applications of LoUs and other items viz. stationery, rubber stamps etc. lying in the office of Diamonds R US. There were about 50-60 cartons of documents that needed to be shifted,” said Sisodiya, who worked in Nirav Modi’s company since 2016.
CBI had registered the first FIR in the PNB scam on January 31. By that time, Nirav Modi had already fled the country along with his family members. After the documents reached CAM office, “Pandya instructed all of us to sort the documents year-wise and party-wise and put the same in the office of CAM”, he adds.
Similarly, Ravindra confirmed that he was engaged in the transfer of documents in mid-February from Diamonds R US office to CAM office. These documents were later recovered by CBI from CAM office. CBI has not mentioned anything about Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas or its staff in its two chargesheets filed last week and sources say they are not included in the list of witnesses as well.
However, Vipul Ambani’s name has been clearly mentioned for his role in hiding the documents.
CBI has also recorded statements of six others, some of whom were farmers and some unemployed, from Surat area including Oghadbhai Ukabhai Kalsaria, Laljibhai Kalsaria, Mohanbhai Ladumor, Manojbhai Sankhat, Divyesh Ladumor and Maganbhai Jinjala. These six who were made partners in Nirav Modi’s companies and were paid Rs 10,000 per month remuneration.
They agreed to sign cheques, partnership documents and other papers, whenever asked, as they needed money.
Oghadbhai and Laljibhai Kalsaria were even made partners of 49% and 48.5% respectively in one of the companies while Nirav Modi kept his stake below 1% each in them.
“7,000 pages filed in the court are not worth ink and paper. It is an exercise done in haste and obviously has left loose ends and is incomplete and as claimed further investigation is continuing which I guess will continue till eternity. CBI itself does not want the trial to start. Sanctions are yet to be obtained so I wonder of what use this chargesheet is of,” said Vijay Aggarwal, counsel for five private persons from Nirav Modi’s companies.