Orchard Road jeweller arrested in India

INDIA - Vihari Sheth, managing director of Vihari Jewels in Orchard Road, has been denied bail in Mumbai after being arrested for smuggling diamond-studded gold jewellery in her underwear.

Sheth, 26, is the wife of Mr Abhishek Poddar, whose prominent family runs Siyaram Silk Mills, a company with a turnover of over 10 billion rupees (S$208 million).

The jeweller, who comes from four generations of Indian diamond traders, was detained last Tuesday at Mumbai International Airport, under the Indian Customs Act, for trying to smuggle jewellery estimated to be worth 23.5 million rupees. Only 20,000 rupees in jewellery is permitted duty-free.

Based on a tipoff, she was stopped while walking through the green channel after arriving from Singapore, according to the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI). "We had specific intelligence that she would be carrying jewellery," a DRI official said.

If found guilty of smuggling, she faces up to seven years in jail under the Customs Act.

Her lawyer Ravi Hirani said she was not guilty and was willing to deposit the duty amount. "We are ready to deposit the duty of 8 million rupees but they (DRI) are not willing to accept it."

Prosecution lawyer Arun Gupte said: "She failed to declare (the jewellery)... It is a smuggling case."

Sheth, whose grandfather expanded the family business overseas, opened her first shop in Singapore in 2006. Two years later, she opened two more in Mumbai, which are managed by her uncle.

Vihari Jewels retails high-end diamond and gold jewellery. Sheth's jewellery business attracted attention in Singapore last October when she showcased the 110-carat Yellow Dragon diamond, valued at US$11 million (S$14 million) to US$15 million.

The DRI is trying to verify whether she had made several similar trips back to India to sell jewellery that had been commissioned and on which she did not pay duty, sources said.

Her two shops in Mumbai were searched and sealed last week after the DRI seized jewellery as part of the investigations into the case.

On Thursday, when she was taken to court by the DRI, she collapsed and was taken to a hospital, according to media reports.

After being cleared by doctors, she was then taken to Byculla Jail in Mumbai, where she will remain in judicial custody till Wednesday next week.

Her lawyer said that the defence would be moving a second application for bail in a sessions court.

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