SEBI Denies Clearing Choksi's Antigua Citizenship Request, Cong Claims Govt's Complicity Exposed
In a letter to a special PMLA court, PNB scam accused Mehul Choksi also said he was in talks with Punjab National Bank to settle his dues and accused the ED of deliberating omitting this information in court.

New Delhi: The Security Exchange Board of India has dismissed reports that it provided a “positive report” on fugitive businessman Mehul Choksi to the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) of Antigua, based on which he was granted citizenship in the Caribbean nation.

“SEBI has neither received any request from the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) of Antigua for updates on any investigation nor provided any such information to CIU,” the market regulator said in a statement.

The clarification came after the Antigua government claimed that Choksi was considered to be a "fit and proper candidate" for Antiguan citizenship after Indian government agencies cleared him last year and said there was "no adverse information" against him.

In a statement, their Citizenship by Investment Unit said that during a background check, it had found that SEBI had closed the two cases it had initiated against the jeweller.

The CIU said it had requested updates on the status of the investigations and received documentary confirmation, issued by the SEBI, stating that in one case, the matter had been satisfactorily closed, and there was not sufficient evidence to pursue the second case further.

The government of the island nation also claimed that it had conducted "stringent background checks" and obtained clearance certificate by Mumbai Police and the External Affairs Ministry.

The CIU statement, shared by Antigua Observer newspaper on its website, said these facts were being made public "in an effort to provide clarity and address misinformation that has been circulating in the public domain".

The checks included open source Internet checks, Thompson Reuters World-Check, queries of various sanctions lists, engagement with regional and international intelligence agencies like Interpol as well as contracted third party due diligence providers, it said.

"It was only after the results of all of these checks had been received and assessed that a final decision was taken on the application. In no instance was any derogatory information disclosed on the applicant."

Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi are wanted in the Rs 13,578-crore Punjab National Bank fraud case, which is now being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate.

Choksi bought Antigua citizenship as part of a Citizenship by Investment policy for which he may have paid around Rs. 1.3 crore. He left India in the first week of January and took an oath of allegiance as a citizen of Antigua on January 15. On January 29, the CBI filed a case and started investigating Choksi and Nirav Modi.

The Congress has latched on to the Antiguan government's defence to claim that the "shocking details" have "exposed the complicity and connivance" of the Modi government in the escape of Choksi to the Caribbean country.

Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, “Loot and make them scoot is the prime policy of the Modi government. The shocking details reveal how the Modi government enacted this mega scam," he said in a statement.

Surjewala questioned why Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not raise the issue when he met his Antiguan counterpart Gaston Browne in April 2018.

He also alleged that the Ministry of External Affairs issued a clean chit to Choksi when there were complaints pending against him.

"Why did the CBI/ED not move the Interpol for a warrant against Mehul Choksi or provide the requisite evidence of criminal fraud against him? Is it not correct that this deliberate failure on part of CBI/ED in providing evidence to Interpol, led to Interpol giving a clean chit to Choksi?" he asked.