Choksi produced before magistrate to answer charges of illegal entry into Dominica

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New Delhi, Jun 2 (PTI) Diamantaire Mehul Choksi was produced before a magistrate in Dominica to answer charges of his illegal entry into the Caribbean island nation following a high court order on Wednesday, local media reported.

He appeared before the magistrate on a wheel chair in a blue T-shirt and black shorts.

Earlier in the day, Dominica High Court Judge Bernie Stephenson issued the order for his production before a magistrate after nearly three hours of hearing on a habeas corpus petition filed on behalf of the businessman who had claimed that he was abducted from neighbouring Antigua and Barbuda and forcefully brought to the Caribbean Island nation.

She adjourned the habeas corpus matter till Thursday, Dominica News Online reported.

Rejecting the submission of Choksi who is wanted in India in an alleged Rs 13,500 crore loan fraud case in Punjab National Bank and has an Interpol Red Notice against him,, the prosecution said the habeas corpus petition does not stand as he had illegally entered the country and was subsequently detained.

His lawyers, however, alleged that he was kidnapped from Jolly Harbour in Antigua and brought to Dominica on a boat, about 100 nautical miles away.

'Our stand that Mr Mehul Choksi is in illegal detention as he was required to be produced within 72 hours before the magistrate and was not so produced has been vindicated. In order to remedy this, he has been asked to be produced before the magistrate. This establishes illegal detention of Mr Mehul Choksi as pleaded by the defence,' Choksi's lawyer Vijay Aggarwal said.

'The matter being heard is of habeas corpus petition...and not of his repatriation to India. His citizenship is not in question before the court.... Contrary to numerous media reports, there was no discussion regarding Government of India,' Aggarwal said.

The diamantaire, who mysteriously went missing on May 23 from Antigua and Barbuda where he had been staying since 2018 as a citizen, was detained in neighbouring Dominica for illegal entry after a possible romantic escapade with his rumoured girlfriend.

Choksi's wife Preeti told reporters that the woman in question was not his girlfriend.

She said the woman was known to him and used to go on walks with him.

She said Choksi was abducted by people looking like Indian and Antiguan when he had gone to meet the woman.

During Wednesday's trial, Choksi was present through video-conferencing from Dominica China Friendship Hospital while his lawyers were present physically in court.

The judge asked authorities to share court documents with Choksi who is admitted at the Hospital.

His lawyers said that he does not feel safe in police custody and that he should be sent back to Antigua and Barbuda, local media reported.

He also said he would pay for his security and raised the issue of injury marks found on his body and him being hospitalised.

In case of an adverse order, Choksi has the option of appealing in higher courts.

Last week, the Government of Dominica had issued a press statement that it was verifying the status of Choksi's citizenship with Antigua and Barbuda.

'Once the information is provided by the Antigua authorities, possible arrangements will be made for Mr. Mehul Choksi to be repatriated to Antigua,' the statement had said.

A team of multi-agency officials led by a CBI DIG has gone to Dominica to bring Choksi to India if court there clears his deportation to India, officials said.

Choksi's arrest has created turbulence in the calm political waters of the neighbouring Caribbean Island countries -- Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica --where allegations have been levelled against opposition parties supporting the businessman having an Interpol Red Notice against him.

Dominican Leader of Opposition Lennox Linton had to issue a denial on the reports of meeting Chetan Choksi, the brother of Mehul Choksi, or receiving any money from him.

'I do not know Chetan Choksi. I have never seen him. I have never spoken to him. I have never met with him,' Dominica News Online quoted a video message released by Linton.

Local media outlet Associate Times had alleged that Choksi arrived on a private jet on May 29 and met Linton at his home in Marigot locality the next day for nearly two hours where he gave token money of USD 2 lakh and promised funding for elections in return for raising the issue in Parliament.

The outlet alleged that Linton was quiet on the Mehul Choksi affair till meeting his brother Chetan. After the meeting, he started attacks on the government over the arrest of the fugitive diamantaire.

Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi are wanted for allegedly siphoning Rs 13,500 crore of public money from the state-run Punjab National Bank (PNB) using letters of undertaking.

While Modi is in a London prison after being repeatedly denied bail and is contesting his extradition to India, Choksi took citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda in 2017 using the Citizenship by Investment programme before fleeing India in the first week of January 2018. The scam came to light subsequently. PTI ABS SKL SMN SMN

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