Mumbai: The Antiguan and Barbudan passport of fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi, the alleged co-mastermind of the Rs 12,500-crore Punjab National Bank fraud case, has expired, in a development that will strengthen India’s case for his extradition with the authorities of the Caribbean Island country, sources have confirmed to the FPJ.
In November 2017, Choksi had acquired an Antigua and Barbuda passport by availing of that country’s scheme to grant citizenship to an applicant in lieu of investment.
Choksi is accused of having exited India in January 2018, days before the scam was detected by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on a complaint from the public sector bank, after which the agency and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) registered multiple cases to probe the scam.
Choksi's passport expired in November, 2022
There is a pending Interpol Red Corner Notice (RCN) against Choksi as well, issued on a request from India, which warrants a subject’s detention by the host country.
Choksi had acquired the Caribbean country’s citizenship through its ‘Citizenship by Investment’ scheme in November 2017, almost two months prior to his departure from India, and it lapsed in November 2022, ED sources said.
“Choksi’s Antiguan and Barbudan passport was issued on November 16, 2017, with a five-year validity. It expired on November 15, 2022,” the source said, adding that his passport number is ‘AB007713'.
The passport showed his place of birth as India, with the birthdate recorded as May 5, 1959. Sources said efforts are allegedly underway by Choksi to renew his Antiguan and Barbudan passport.
Choksi arrested for illegally entering Dominica
When the FPJ contacted Choksi’s lawyer about the expired passport, he did not respond. On May 23, 2021, Choksi was arrested in Dominica, the neighbouring country of Antigua and Barbuda, for his alleged illegal entry into that Caribbean Island 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 hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by Choksi, had ordered him to be presented before the magistrate to face charges of illegal entry.
India made formal extradition request to Antigua and Barbuda
Months after the scam came to light, India had made a formal extradition request to Antigua and Barbuda in 2019, which he contested legally there and the process has taken time since then.
The request was made on the basis of the documents of evidentiary value sent by the CBI and the ED to Antigua, accusing Choksi and some of his firms’ involvement in the PNB scam, allegations that he has contested there.
Choksi obtained Antiguan citizenship by allegedly surrendering his Indian passport. India does not have an extradition treaty with Antigua and Barbuda but has an extradition arrangement with it, based on the fact that the latter notified India as a designated Commonwealth country in 2001.
In August 2018, India notified extradition with Antigua and Barbuda. A gazette notification by the ministry of external affairs made it clear that as per the provisions of the Extradition Act, 1993, of Antigua and Barbuda, a fugitive may be extradited to a designated Commonwealth country or a state with which there are general or special arrangements or a bilateral treaty.
Nirav Modi attempted to acquire citizenship of Pacific nation
Choksi’s relative, the 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.
India has made an extradition request with the United Kingdom authorities for Modi. Modi had allegedly made an aborted bid to acquire the citizenship of a Pacific nation. An ED probe had shown that Modi had allegedly paid for acquiring the honorary citizenship of Vanuatu in late 2017, but the country’s immigration authorities denied his request after an exercise undertaken by them yielded adverse findings against him.
Choksi's role in the PNB scam
The ED and the CBI have accused Choksi and a few of his firms 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 loan. Three firms owned by Nirav Modi are also accused of fraudulently obtaining funds worth around Rs 6,498 crore via LoU, despite ineligibility, from a Mumbai branch of the PNB. The scam took place between February 2011 and May 2017, according to the ED and the CBI.
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