Fugitive diamond trader Mehul Choksi has blamed an “untimely typhoon” in Antigua and Barbuda for his inability to send legal documents to his lawyer in India to challenge a January 31 special court order in the Bombay High Court within the mandated 30-day period.
On January 31, a special court in Mumbai had rejected Choksi’s plea seeking examination of witnesses, based on which the Enforcement Directorate (ED) wanted to declare him a fugitive economic offender under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018. Choksi now wants to challenge this order in the High Court.
Choksi, who took up citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda in June last year and currently resides there, moved the Bombay High Court on July 4, requesting it to pardon the delay and admit his appeal. Under the limitation laws, an appeal has to be filed in the High Court within 30 days of the date of the order passed by a lower court.
“…the counsel (of Choksi in India) failed to get the vakalatnamas within the limitation period due to untimely typhoon at Antigua which created chaos and also interrupted the courier service and the shipment through which the signed vakalatnamas were shipped by the applicant (Choksi) to the counsel on June 18 by FedEX courier and the same was received by the advocate of the applicant on June 24,” said Choksi’s application filed by his counsel Rahul Agarwal.
A vakalatnama is a document by which a party authorises a lawyer to represent it in the court.
Choksi’s application said he is “already undergoing tremendous stress and hardship and if delay (in filing an appeal) is not condoned and the application is not allowed to be heard on merits, the same would cause great deal of prejudice” to him. It said the delay was not “intentional” but due to reasons “beyond the control” of Choksi.
Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi are accused of routing transactions of about Rs 15,600 crore through fraudulent Letters of Understanding (LoUs) of Punjab National Bank (PNB). Both left India in the first week of January 2018, before the PNB scam became public. Besides the ED, the two are being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO).
Of the total proceeds of crime of Choksi worth Rs 6,097.73 crore, the ED has so far attached and seized properties worth Rs 2,534.7 crore. India has also sought Choksi’s extradition from Antigua and an Interpol arrest warrant has been issued against him.
Last month, the ED rejected Choksi’s offer to question him in Antigua in relation to the PNB fraud. Choksi has now told the Bombay High Court that he cannot return to India as he is allegedly taking medical treatment in the Caribbean country. The ED has told the court that Choksi’s medical reasons and conditions appear to be a facade to delay the lawful proceedings. The central agency, in fact, informed the court it was “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”.
Following this, the Bombay High Court asked Choksi to submit his medical reports by July 1 with the probe agency and directed the state-run JJ Hospital to study these and submit an opinion on his medical condition. Choksi is yet to submit the reports to the agency.