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Panel seeks changes in passport Act to prevent fraudsters from fleeing India

The home ministry had constituted a panel to look into the issue of Indian passport holders obtaining duel citizenship as has been the case of Choksi.

By: PTI | New Delhi |
July 29, 2018 11:29:56 am
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An inter-ministerial panel has submitted recommendations to the Home Ministry to tighten the Passport law to prevent defaulting promoters and fraudsters like Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi from fleeing the country.

The home ministry had constituted a panel to look into the issue of Indian passport holders obtaining duel citizenship as has been the case of Choksi. The panel subsequently formed a sub-group under Financial Services Secretary Rajiv Kumar to look at the misuse of Indian Passport and duel citizenship issue.

After thorough examination, the panel headed by the Secretary suggested amendment in the Passport Act to deal with the wilful defaulters and fraudsters fleeing the country, sources said.

These recommendations assume significance in view of reports of fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi moving to Antigua, an island nation in the West Indies, from the US and getting a local passport of the Caribbean country.

Choksi, involved in over USD 2 billion scam in Punjab National Bank, is believed to have acquired the citizenship of Antigua last year.

There are cases wherein an individual may be in possession of passport of two countries, sources said, adding, it becomes very difficult for authorities in India to deal with them. Various suggestions were given including renunciation of Indian citizenship.

Other members of the high-level panel include representatives from Enforcement Directorate, Central Bureau of Investigation, Intelligence Bureau, and Reserve Bank of India. Besides, senior officials of the home ministry and ministry of external affairs are part of the committee.

Soon after the emergence of the PNB fraud and perpetrator Modi and his uncle Choksi fleeing the country, the Finance Ministry asked public sector banks (PSBs) to collect passport details of all those borrowers who have borrowed loans of more than Rs 50 crore.

The banks have also been asked to introduce modifications in the loan application form issued to a borrower to incorporate his or her passport details.

Mallya had fled the country in March 2016 after defaulting on loans given to Kingfisher Airlines, which was promoted by his group.

Moreover, Parliament passed Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018 giving authorities powers to attach and confiscate the proceeds of crime and properties of economic offenders, like bank fraudsters or loan defaulters fleeing the country. The law is aimed at quickly recovering losses to exchequer or PSBs in cases of frauds.

Union Minister Arun Jaitley had in his Budget for 2018-19 said the government was considering bringing a new law to confiscate assets of such absconders.

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