In a recent report to Maharashtra Home Department, Mumbai Police has given a clean chit to policemen of the Malabar Hill Police station who issued a police verification report on fugitive jeweller Mehul Choksi, wanted in connection with the Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud. Antigua and Barbuda had said Choksi was granted citizenship based on a police clearance certificate (PCC) issued by Regional Passport Office (RPO), Mumbai, and documents received from Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) in May 2017. Following this, the government came under attack for what was pointed out as shortcomings in the online police verification system adopted by state police department. In the wake of this, Mumbai Police ordered an inquiry to find out if there was any deliberate violation of rules by officials issuing the verification report on Choksi.
“Before issuing a Police Clearance Certificate (PCC), the regional passport office had sought details from the Malabar Hill police station, under whose jurisdiction Choksi’s Mumbai residence falls. The PVR was issued by the police station after it ran a check on the Criminal Antecedents and Information System (CAIS) under four heads, including if the applicant is wanted by any court or any warrant has been issued against him. Since there was nothing on the system against Choksi when a search under these heads were made, local police issued the PVR,” said an official from State Home Department. “The report has also stated that Choksi didn’t try to influence the officials at the police station or offer them bribe to get a PVR. It happened in due course,” said the official.
According to the Mumbai Police, Choksi applied for a PCC on February 23, 2017. On March 10, 2017, the Malabar Hill police station submitted a “clear report”. On March 14, 2017, the Mumbai Police passport branch forwarded the report to the RPO.
“The CAIS only reflects the applicant’s name if he has been arrested in any offence. This is the format followed by every state…,” said a police officer.
Sources pointed out that there was no criminal case registered against Choksi in Mumbai in 2017 — the PNB scam came to light in January 2018. The Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of the Mumbai Police did, however, receive certain complaints from a few franchises of Choksi’s firm Gitanjali Jewellers, complaining of breach of contract. The company in turn had filed counter complaints against these franchises. But no FIR was registered — the complaints and counter complaints are still being probed.
“These complaints are related to breach of contract, which fall under civil litigation… The BKC police station received at least three complaints… After studying the complaints, a preliminary enquiry (PE) was ordered. The firm claimed that the franchise made bogus agreements… Since it has not provided the requisite documents, the PE has not been converted into an FIR,” said a police officer.
Choksi was granted citizenship to the twin Caribbean islands in November 2017 under the Citizenship Investment Programme. Those holding Antigua and Barbuda passports enjoy visa free travel to 132 countries, including the UK, Singapore and the countries in the Schengen area.
In a press statement, Anitgua’s Citizen Investment Unit had said that Choksi’s application was received in May 2017 along with a PCC, as required under the Antigua and Barbuda Citizenship By Investment Act, 2013. “The said police clearance certificate from the Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs Regional Passport Office, Mumbai, certified that there was no adverse information against Mr Mehul Chinubbhai Choksi which would render him ineligible for grant of travel facilities including visa for Antigua and Barbuda,” it had said.
Following this, the MEA had clarified that the PCC was issued “by Mumbai passport office for Antigua and Barbuda on March 16, 2017… on the basis of a clear police verification report available on his passport”.
Meanwhile, the Indian authorities are reportedly yet to hear from their Antigua and Barbuda counterparts on the extradition request for Choksi. Sources said that at a meeting with Indian officials, Antigua and Barbuda had expressed reservations about New Delhi’s request to revoke Choksi’s citizenship. However, the Indian officials were assured that an extradition request could be considered after a Red Corner Notice (RCN) is issued against Choksi.
While Indian officials have received a photocopy of Choksi’s passport issued by Antigua, it does not have his local address. “It only has his photograph and details like his father’s name, date of issue and expiry of the passport. Crucial information about his address has not been shared,” said a senior official. On July 2, based on the request sent by the CBI, the Interpol had issued a RCN against Choksi’s nephew Nirav Modi, his brother Neeshal Modi and close aide Subhash Parab — all accused in the PNB fraud case. However, a RCN request made on May 29 in regard to Choksi is pending before the Interpol.
While the ED is probing the money laundering aspect in the fraud case, the CBI is probing the misuse of office by public servants and the alleged criminal conspiracy entered between the arrested bankers and private persons to defraud a state-owned bank of Rs 13,578 crore.