MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: In a move termed “highly unusual” by industry watchers, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (CAM), one of India’s top law firms, was searched by the country’s premier investigative agency last week in connection with the Rs 11,300 crore scam triggered by diamantaire Nirav Modi.
CBI took away documents related to Modi from the firm’s Mumbai office on February 21, seven days after the country’s biggest loan fraud was announced by public sector lender Punjab National Bank (PNB).
Legal firms, especially one as high-powered as CAM, are considered to be repositories of corporate secrets and information.
CAM was mandated by Modi for a banking-related transaction weeks before the news about the fraud was made public on February 14. Modi was a new client of CAM and was referred by another lawyer. CAM terminated the account after the scam came to light. Cyril Shroff, the chief of CAM, advises the biggest and the most powerful businessmen in India. CAM’s clients include Reliance Industries, Tata Group, SBI, Aditya Birla Group, NTPC, HDFC Bank, Infosys and L&T.
“A search like this threatens client-attorney privilege,” a partner of a top law firm said.
“It is highly unusual for an investigative agency to show up at a reputed lawyer’s office. It is an encroachment into the lawyer’s office which is undesirable and intimidating, unless there’s a wrongdoing. The Bar Council of India should step in on this,” the person said.
In the recent past, the country’s investigative agencies have searched Gautam Khaitan-managed law firm OP Khaitan in the AgustaWestland chopper scam.
CAM, ranked among the top 10 law firms in the country, is an offshoot of the century-old Amarchand & Mangaldas that was split between brothers Cyril and Shardul Shroff in 2015. When contacted, CAM declined to comment on the CBI search.
“We had information that some documents pertaining to the accused companies were lying with the law firm, so we visited the CAM office and collected those documents,” said a senior CBI officer. PNB had filed a criminal complaint against Modi, his uncle Mehul Choksi (MD of Gitanjali Gems) and the companies run by them, for defrauding the bank and causing huge losses to it. Without going into the details of nature of documents recovered from CAM’s office, CBI officials said they are presently scrutinizing a truckload of documents recovered from company offices, residences of Modi and Choksi, PNB, and also those collected from chartered accountants, lawyers and auditors. All the documents are being treated as “crucial”, a CBI official said.
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