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The journalist from The Telegraph, who tracked Nirav Modi down in London, says he never expected the social media storm his video has generated

March 24, 2019 07:05 AM

COURTESY MIRROR MARCH 24

Door-stopping NiMo

The journalist from The Telegraph, who tracked Nirav Modi down in London, says he never expected the social media storm his video has generated
| Danish Khan
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On Saturday, March 9, India woke up to the sight of fugitive-billionaire Nirav Modi being cornered by a lanky journalist from The Telegraph on the streets of London. The video created a storm on social media, and people could not help but notice the calm and dignified manner in which a flustered Modi was pursued by Mick Brown. Sitting in a café at The Telegraph office, Brown admits — a bit reluctantly — that his story may have accelerated what seemed like a moribund process to get the diamantaire extradited.

Within hours of the video streaming across India and Britain, UK home secretary Sajid Javid certified India’s request for Modi’s extradition, paving the way for his dramatic arrest. Modi’s case is now in the realm of the UK judiciary, where hearings will provide the script for his magnificent downfall. Besides getting a step closer to extradition, regular listings at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court will bring a fresh openness to the case in contrast to the opaqueness of the UK Home Office, which took seven months to certify India’s request.


But for Brown and his colleagues, it was neither the fraud nor India’s request for Modi’s extradition that got them interested. Brown’s piece on Modi in December 2018, for the paper’s luxury magazine, centred on dissecting “how this man, coming from nowhere, had taken the luxury world by storm”. And the most important question of all is, as he tells me sipping tea, “Where did the money come from”, giving us a glimpse into how the contours of this major story were shaped by asking the most basic questions.

While the launch of Modi’s UK business was accompanied by an advertising blitzkrieg, which included pictures of models and socialites sipping champagne with him, none of them responded to Brown’s calls and messages for his December 2018 piece on the diamantaire.

“Within the world that he moved, there was a degree of hype. He marketed himself very shrewdly, or rather, he knew people who could market him shrewdly. He was flying fashion journalists and jewellery writers over to India, [arranging a] big party in a Maharaja’s palace, showing them his factory and workshops. He made a big splash.”

While Brown is not willing to discuss the nitty-gritties of how exactly he got the scoop, he admits that he is still looking for answers. “I still don’t quite understand the process. What is required for the British police to make an arrest? And there is some ambiguity. Did the British police have all of the information coming from India that was necessary? Was the Indian government dilatory in supplying all the information? There are lots of unanswered questions.”

In our conversation Brown makes it abundantly clear that the language of bureaucratic indifference is universal. How else can it be justified that despite an Interpol red notice, and the fact that a request for his extradition was lying before the UK authorities at the same time, Modi got a national insurance number (necessary to live and work in the UK), and was paying taxes. “One hand did not know what the other hand was doing,” Brown says.

Could Britain’s policy of allowing residence by investment be a factor in ‘fugitives’ making London their home? “The Home Office has been singularly unhelpful in whatever we have done. I can’t say whether [Modi] was looked upon favourably because of the money he got here. But it reflects rather questionably on the British government and its laxity in these matters. And this does nothing for our reputation abroad.” When I remind him of the individuals being pursued by India who have made Britain their home — besides a long list of Russians and Chinese — Brown deploys Somerset Maugham to explain the phenomenon: “Sunny image for shady people.”

Returning to the subject of Modi, it was after several dry runs and photographing him over a period of days that Brown and his colleagues confronted him. “We established his whereabouts, and figured out his movements. We had to ensure he was the right guy.” They proceeded once Brown and chief reporter Robert Mendick were sure about Modi’s routine. “I approached him and called his name. Modi looked thunderstruck. My approach with anyone is to be polite and dignified. I tried to engage with him in a reasonable, matter-of-fact way.”

Brown tells me he wanted to save Modi from embarrassment and asked him if they could speak in his office or somewhere else, rather than on the streets. “He was very polite, but clearly not persuaded.” As Brown engaged Modi, Mendick made his way to his office where an employee told him they had a non-disclosure agreement. “But it seems the first call Modi made, as he got into a taxi escaping my questions, was to his office, after which Robert was offered the standard ‘no comment’ reply.”

But nothing had prepared Brown and Mendick for the reaction their story generated. “I was quite busy that Saturday — watching Crystal Palace (the football team) lose to Brighton. It was incredible that the [Modi] video got millions and millions of hits. I got lots of calls and requests for comment.” And what about the ostrich jacket? “I was focussed on the questions. But I did think that it was a ghastly jacket. When we reached the office, it was Robert who asked ‘what is that jacket?’, and a colleague on the fashion desk helped us.” For Brown the most satisfying part is that it was a “very old fashioned way of going about” that made the Nirav Modi story possible. As I left The Telegraph office, I was struck by Maugham’s words: “Simplicity and naturalness are the truest marks of distinction

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