The Mumbai Police said on Saturday that a probe has been ordered into the “issuance of police verification report” to Mehul Choksi, fugitive jeweller and Punjab National Bank scam accused. Antigua and Barbuda had said Choksi was granted citizenship based on a police clearance certificate (PCC) issued by the Regional Passport Office (RPO), Mumbai, and documents received from the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) in May 2017.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said on Friday that the police clearance certificate was issued “by Passport Office, Mumbai, for Antigua and Barbuda on March 16, 2017… on the basis of a clear police verification report available on his passport.”
According to police, Choksi applied for a PCC on February 23, 2017. On March 10, 2017, the Malabar Hill police station, under whose jurisdiction Choksi’s residence falls, submitted a “clear report”, after running a check on its internal Criminal Antecedents and Information System (CAIS). 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. “We are examining our internal process vis-a-vis CAIS and how to improve it,” he added.
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 firms, Gitanjali Jewellers, complaining of breach of contract. Choksi’s firm 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 of breach of contract, which fall under civil litigation,” said a police officer. “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 they haven’t provided the requisite documents, the PE has not been converted into an FIR,” added the officer.
From the MEA statement on Friday, it is evident that passport authorities were aware that Choksi had applied for citizenship of Antigua and Bermuda. But, sources said, the MEA did not inform the CBI or ED.
“In June, after the embarrassment the agencies faced following the information shared by Interpol on Nirav Modi’s travels, despite his Indian passport being revoked, joint meetings between the MEA, ED and CBI took place to discuss the extradition plea of both Modi and Choksi… However, in none of these meetings did the MEA inform about Choksi’s Antigua and Barbuda citizenship. We only learnt about it in July, after the US authorities informed us that Choksi had fled their country on an Antiguan passport,” said an official from the probe agency.
According to sources, at a meeting with Indian officials, Antigua and Barbuda 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 him.
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 government official.