In a setback for India’s enforcement authorities, Interpol has removed the name of fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi, the alleged co-mastermind of the Rs 12, 500-crore Punjab National Bank fraud case, from its red corner notice list (any person named on the list can be detained by a host country globally), sources said.
The action of the global police body was in response to Choksi’s representations to it, requesting his de-listing from the RCN List, based on his contention that in May 2021, he had allegedly been abducted and forcibly brought to Dominica from Antigua and Barbuda, about 100 miles away, in a bid to take him to India, sources said. When contacted, officers from CBI and ED had no reaction to the latest development.
Choksi left India in Jan 2018
Choksi, who is accused of having exited India in January 2018, had acquired the passport of the Caribbean Island country, Antigua and Barbuda, in November 2017, sources said. On May 23, 2021, Choksi was arrested for his alleged illegal entry into Dominica, the neighbouring country. The 62-year-old, then wheelchair-bound, had pleaded before a Dominican magistrate’s court that he had allegedly been abducted and forcibly brought to Dominica from Antigua and Barbuda, about 100 miles away.
The Dominica High Court that was hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by Choksi had ordered him to be presented before the magistrate to face charges of illegal entry.
Reacting to the developments on Monday, Choksi’s lawyer Vijay Aggarwal told the FPJ, “Because of the efforts of the legal team and the genuine claim of kidnapping of my client, and as this kidnapping attempt is not approved by the international community, the RCN issued against my client, Mehul Choksi, by Interpol has been removed.” Aggarwal said, “Ultimately, truth has prevailed.”
Choksi’s departure from India in 2018 was days before the scam was detected by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on a complaint from the PNB, after which the agency and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) registered multiple cases to probe the scam. There was a pending Interpol red corner notice (RCN) against Choksi, issued on a request from India. Based on the probes and the RCN against Choksi, India had subsequently approached the government of Antigua and Barbuda to get him extradited, which the latter had contested legally in that country.
The extradition request was made on the basis of the documents of evidentiary value sent by the CBI and ED to Antigua, accusing Choksi and the involvement of a few of his firms in the PNB scam, allegations that he has contested there. Choksi took Antiguan citizenship after allegedly surrendering his Indian passport.
Nirav Modi accompanied Choksi in the PNB scam
Choksi’s relative, fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi is the alleged co-mastermind of the PNB scam and he too had fled India in January 2018 before the scam came to light.
The ED and CBI have accused Choksi and some of his companies of having defrauded the PNB of Rs 6,097 crore, allegations that he has denied. Choksi is accused of fraudulently obtaining funds worth Rs 6,097 crore from the PNB’s Mumbai branch via Letters of Undertaking (LoUs), despite ineligibility. An LoU refers to a bank guarantee given to a bank by another bank on behalf of a customer for the repayment of a loan. Three firms of Nirav Modi are also accused of fraudulently obtaining funds worth around Rs 6,498 crore via LoUs, despite ineligibility, from a Mumbai branch of the PNB. The scam occurred between February 2011 to May 2017, according to the ED and CBI.
Choksi had, in November 2017, acquired an Antigua and Barbuda passport by availing of that country’s scheme to grant citizenship to an applicant in lieu of investment. Choksi’s Antiguan and Barbudan passport had expired in November 2022, which was reported first by the FPJ. When Choksi’s legal team was contacted about his Antigua and Barbuda passport having lapsed, it had failed to respond.
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