Fugitive jeweller Mehul Choksi, who was learnt to have escaped to Antigua and taken citizenship, has left the Caribbean country. Agencies investigating the Rs 13,600 crore PNB scam, where Choksi is among the key accused with nephew Nirav Modi, have learnt that he recently left Antigua for another country that is yet to be determined.
“We are trying to ascertain where he is. But we are certain he is not in Antigua anymore,” an Antigua officer involved in the probe said. Both the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) are probing the PNB fraud case and have secured got notices against Modi and Choksi through Interpol.
On Wednesday, the CBI had written to concerned authorities in Antigua to provide details of Choksi’s whereabouts after Antiguan authorities officially released a statement about Choksi getting a citizenship in January this year, just before the PNB scam was made public.
On July 23, the US Department of Justice, in a communication routed through the CBI, wrote to the ED that it had not recorded the details of Choksi’s movements, but its “assessment is that he has flown out (of the USA) on an Antiguan passport”.
The US communication was in response to a diffusion notice issued against Choksi. Following this, Indian agencies confirmed the information from Antigua through diplomatic channels and began preparing extradition proceedings against him.
Sources said Indian agencies had been quietly negotiating with the US authorities to set extradition proceedings against Choksi in that country. His last known location was New York City it had been learnt. “Certain documents had already been sent to the US for unofficial vetting and an extradition process would be put in motion soon. However, he fled to Antigua and has now moved out of there as well,” an official said.
Once his location is known, the CBI is expected to push for extradition. The agency has already sent a request to the Interpol to issue a Red Notice against Choksi, but the request is still pending.
Choksi had applied for Antiguan citizenship in November 2017 and took the oath of citizenship on January 15, 2018. He had left India on January 7. His companies had approached Punjab National Bank (PNB) for fresh letters of undertaking (LoUs) to be issued on January 16. When PNB found that earlier LoUs had been fraudulently issued and the companies had massive outstanding loans, it approached CBI.
“It all goes to show that the scam and the escape were all planned beforehand,” an official involved with the case said.
The details were revealed by Antiguan authorities to local newspaper Antigua Observer in response to its questionnaire on the issue of Choksi’s citizenship.
According to the response sent by Antigua’s Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU), which grants citizenship to foreigners in lieu of investments or fees that could be as low as Rs 1.3 crore, Choksi was “granted citizenship by registration in November 2017 .after extensive vetting.”
It said, “Mr Choksi’s application was subject to robust due diligence international investigation, which is conducted on each principal applicant and dependent, by reputable agencies, including the International Criminal Police Organisation and the CARICOM Implementing Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS). The 2017 investigation revealed no derogatory information about Mr Choksi.”
It confirmed that “on 15th January 2018 Mr Choksi swore the Oath of Allegiance in Antigua, a requirement under the provisions of the Citizenship by Investment Act”.
The CBI, however, refused to buy the CIU argument that it had vetted Choksi’s credentials and carried out due diligence. When asked about it CBI spokesperson Abhishek Dayal said, “We were not approached by any country-specific authority or the Interpol for information on Mehul Choksi last year.”