Updated: May 26, 2021 1:52:30 am
Fugitive diamond merchant Mehul Choksi is missing from his home in Antigua and Barbuda, the Caribbean nation of which he has been a citizen since early 2018.
The 62-year-old Choksi is accused of defrauding the public-sector Punjab National Bank (PNB) of almost Rs 13,600 crore. Choksi’s nephew Nirav Modi, also an accused in the case, is fighting to ward off extradition from the UK, where he is in prison.
According to a notice issued by the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda, Choksi was reported missing on May 23 at Antigua’s Johnson Point Police Station.
“He was last seen at about 5.15 pm on the above-mentioned date before leaving home in a motorcar which has since been recovered. Based on additional information received the police have conducted numerous searches, but to no avail,” the police said in the notice issued on May 24.
The police have sought the assistance of the local public to find Choksi.
Choksi left India on January 7, 2018, several days before the PNB scam came to light, and took the oath of citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda on January 15. He had applied for citizenship in November 2017 under the island nation’s Citizenship by Investment programme.
Vijay Aggarwal, Choksi’s lawyer in India, said his client’s family was not aware of his whereabouts.
“Mehul Choksi is missing. His family members are worried. They are in touch with the Antigua police but are very concerned about his safety. We don’t know what happened to him,” Aggarwal told The Indian Express on Tuesday.
Sources in the CBI, which is investigating the case against Choksi, said the agency had contacted the High Commission of Antigua and Barbuda in India, as well as Interpol, to formally seek information on the disappearance of the businessman.
Earlier this year, the government of Antigua and Barbuda had initiated proceedings to revoke Choksi’s citizenship. He had challenged the government’s decision in court, which is yet to give its ruling.
Associates Times, an online portal covering countries in the Caribbean region, reported on Monday that Choksi may have moved to Cuba.
The report quoted one Govin, who was described as “the closest ally of Choksi in Antigua and Barbuda, who assisted him throughout his stay in the country”, as saying that “Mehul Choksi has left the country a few days ago and is currently living in a safe house based in Cuba.”
The report also quoted Govin as saying that Choksi “holds citizenship of another Caribbean Island apart from Antigua and Barbuda”.
The Associates Times report was quoted by WIC News, a news portal covering the Caribbean. WIC News said Choksi had left Antigua and Barbuda “due to fear of being extradited to India as pressure was mounting on Prime Minister Gaston Browne to take strict action” against him.
India does not have an extradition treaty with Cuba.
In an interview to the news channel Wion, Prime Minister Browne, however, said it was not confirmed that Choksi had left his country — at least not by air.
“We don’t have any reliable information that he (Choksi) has fled the country. What we do know at the airport, certainly he did not use any aircraft, if he would have fled the country. If he would have fled the country it would be by way of some form of sea vessel,” Browne said.
Choksi is under investigation by several agencies including the CBI. At India’s request, Interpol has issued a red notice against him.
Investigators have alleged that Choksi floated seven “dummy companies” in India to rotate Rs 5,500 crore of the funds raised through Letters of Understanding (LoU) and loans obtained by his Gitanjali Group from public and private banks between January 2014 and December 2017.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said in March that fugitive businessmen Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, and Choksi are “coming back to India to face the law”.
“The government is following up with the United Kingdom regarding the extradition of Mallya and Modi, while Choksi is believed to be in Antigua. They are all coming back to face the law of the land,” Sitharaman told Rajya Sabha.
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