India was on Friday night seeking the arrest of Nirav Modi, the fugitive billionaire jeweller at the centre of the country’s biggest ever banking scam, who was believed to be hiding in Hong Kong.

A source confirmed that Indian authorities had submitted a request to the city’s Department of Justice for the provisional arrest of the diamond merchant, wanted over a US$2 billion (HK$15.7 billion) fraud at the state-run Punjab National Bank.

“We have reason to believe that he is in Hong Kong,” the source said, adding that the provisional arrest would be the precursor to an extradition request.

Modi, who owns a chain of jewellery shops from Hong Kong to New York, and his uncle and business partner Mehul Choksi are accused of defrauding banks by raising loans from overseas branches of Indian lenders, using nearly US$2 billion of fraudulent guarantees issued by rogue Punjab National Bank staff at a Mumbai branch.

Both diamond merchants have denied wrongdoing.

Modi, who Forbes ranked as India’s 85th richest man, with a net worth of US$1.74 billion last year, was the founder of Firestar Diamond and a jeweller to Hollywood stars such as Naomi Watts and Kate Winslet. The company filed for bankruptcy in a New York court in February.

The billionaire businessman had also launched his own Nirav Modi brand, with more than 10 luxury jewellery stores in locations that included Hong Kong, Macau, London and New York.

He opened his first boutique in Hong Kong in 2015 at the Elements shopping mall in Kowloon. Last year, he opened another one at the IFC mall and a 3,000 sq ft flagship store at an upscale shopping arcade in Tsim Sha Tsui.

The Indian consulate in Hong Kong refused to comment, with media officer Karun Bansal referring the Post to a statement from the Ministry of External Affairs.

“The ministry has sought the provisional arrest of Nirav Deepak Modi by the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,” junior foreign minister V.K. Singh told parliament on Thursday.

Singh said India had submitted the request for Modi’s arrest to Hong Kong on March 23.

The whereabouts of Modi and Choksi have been unknown since Indian federal police launched an investigation in February.

A source in the local Indian business community said: “All I have heard is that he [Modi] is either in Hong Kong or the United States.”

The Indian passports of Modi and Choksi, who both left the country before the scandal broke, have been revoked. But the same source said he believed Modi and his wife also held foreign passports.

According to Singh, authorities on February 16 gave Modi and Choksi a week to respond in court to the allegations they faced.

“Since they failed to respond within the stipulated time period, their passports were revoked on February 23, 2018,” he said.

Hong Kong’s Security Bureau, Department of Justice and police force did not comment on the case.

The news came weeks after India officially asked the city to extradite Ramanjit Singh, alias Romi. The Indian-born Hong Kong resident is the target of a global manhunt over alleged links to political killings, terrorism and a major jailbreak in India. He remains in local detention over a multimillion-dollar robbery in the city.