The Antiguan citizenship of absconding diamond merchant Mehul Choksi would be revoked soon and he could be extradited to India after he exhausts all legal options, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said Tuesday.
Choksi, promoter of Gitanjali Gems, had taken the nationality of Antigua and Barbuda in November 2017 using Citizenship by Investment Program (CIP) of the island nation. He fled India in the first week of January last year.
The case against Mehul Choksi
In February 2018, PNB disclosed a Rs 13,400 crore fraud by Mehul Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi, following which CBI filed an FIR against both. The bank alleged that Choksi, Modi and companies linked to them colluded with a former PNB employee Gokulnath Shetty to pull off the fraud.
They managed to orchestrate the scam by availing credit from overseas branches of Indian banks on the basis of fraudulent guarantees in the form of Letter of Undertakings and letters of credit issued by PNB Brady House branch in Mumbai.
The LoU instructions were issued by colluding bank employees using an international banking messaging system but these were not entered in the internal PNB system making them impossible to be monitored. An LoU is a guarantee given by an issuing bank to Indian banks having branches abroad to grant short-term credit to the applicant. The non-repayment of these credits brought the liability on the PNB.
The other accused in PNB fraud case
Apart from Choksi and Modi, other key accused in the case were Gokulnath Shetty (former deputy general manager of PNB), Hemant Bhat (authorised signatory of Modi’s company), Manoj Kharat (single window operator of PNB), Bechhu Tiwari (then chief manager in the forex department of PNB), Yashwant Joshi (scale II manager in forex department) and Praful Sawant (scale-I officer handling exports section).
Attempts to extradite Choksi to India
Choksi had left India just before CBI registered an FIR against him and his nephew Nirav Modi in February 2018. In August 2018, India requested Antigua for Choksi’s extradition. A team from India was also sent to Antigua to pursue the request. The Ministry of External Affairs had then revoked the passports of both Choksi and Modi.
After sustained efforts by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED), Interpol in December last year published a Red Corner Notice (RCN) against Choksi. A government source had then told The Indian Express: “The extradition talks with the Antiguan government is already in final stages. Hopefully, we will be able to bring him soon.”
Choksi surrenders Indian passport
As India does not permit dual citizenship, the fugitive jeweller gave up his Indian citizenship and surrendered his passport to the Indian High Commission in January 2019. This added a layer of complications to the extradition process of Choksi.
Unable to return on medical grounds
In April, Choksi told the Bombay High Court that he did not deliberately avoid joining the investigation against him in the PNB case but was unable to return because of his medical condition. Earlier this month, he filed an affidavit through his advocate Vijay Aggarwal, stating he had left the country in January 2018 for his medical check-up and treatment and would be back once he was physically fit. He even offered the Enforcement Directorate to question him in Antigua, which the investigation agency rejected.
ED offers air ambulance to bring back Choksi
In a counter affidavit submitted before a Mumbai court, the ED stated that Choksi’s medical reasons and conditions appeared to be facades. “The medical reasons and conditions stated appear to be facades, it is being erected merely to mislead the court in an obvious attempt to delay the lawful proceedings,” it said. The central agency further informed the court that it is “willing to provide an air ambulance with medical experts to bring Choksi from Antigua to India and provide him with all the necessary treatment in India”.
Choksi to lose Antiguan citizenship, says PM Gaston Browne
Following constant efforts by the Indian government to extradite Choksi, Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne Tuesday said the citizenship of diamantaire Mehul Choksi will be revoked soon and he will be extradited to India.
“His citizenship was processed; he got through but the reality is his citizenship will be revoked and he will be repatriated to India; so there is recourse. It’s not a case that we are trying to provide any safe harbour for criminals, for those who are involved in financial crimes,” Antigua Observer reported, quoting a statement by Prime Minister Browne.