The Central Bureau of Investigation on Saturday said absconding diamantaire Mehul Choksi was the mastermind behind a series of companies which conspired with officials of the Punjab National Bank to unauthorisedly raise credit by abusing bank procedures. The investigation agency, during a hearing in the Dominica High Court, said that Choksi is fully aware of the proceedings against him in India but has withheld the information from the court in the Carribean island country.
The CBI said it had made attempts to arrest Choksi during the course of investigation, but his whereabouts were unknown and he was not available in India. A team of multi-agency officials led by a CBI DIG has gone to Dominica to bring back Choksi to India if the courts allow his deportation.
The CBI and the External Affairs Ministry have sought to implead in the habeas corpus petition by filing two affidavits in the Dominica High Court. The central agency will focus on establishing criminal culpability of Choksi, fugitive status, pending warrants against him, Red Notice and charge sheets, while the External Affairs Ministry will argue that Choksi continues to be an Indian citizen, they said.
The affidavits, if admitted, will pave way for noted lawyer Harish Salve to plead Indian case in Dominica, they said. Choksi, promoter of Geetanjali Gems and other famous diamond brands in India, had fled the country weeks before Rs 13,500 crore fraud in Punjab National Bank (PNB) allegedly involving him and his nephew Nirav Modi surfaced.
The Dominica High Court on Friday (local time) denied bail to Choksi in the case of illegal entry into the island country after his mysterious disappearance from neighbouring Antigua and Barbuda where he is staying as a citizen since 2018, local Caribbean media reported.
“Mehul Choksi is fully aware of the proceedings in India. He has appointed lawyers in India, and one of them recently gave a press interview about the happenings in Dominica, supporting the version being advanced by Choksi,” the CBI told the court.
“It is unfortunate that Mehul Choksi has suppressed all this from the Court and has instead suggested that there are no proceedings against him in India,” ANI quoted the agency as saying.
Opposing Choksi’s bail in Dominica High Court, the CBI said, “Mehul Choksi is and remains an international fugitive who continues to evade law enforcement in India. If admitted to bail, Choksi is very likely to continue his evasion of law enforcement and of the Red Notice issued by Interpol.”
The high court on Friday (local time) gave the ruling by concluding that Choksi was a “flight risk”, did not have any ties with Dominica and the court could not impose any conditions which will stop him from leaving the country, news outlet AntiguaNewsroom said.
Choksi had approached the high court after the magistrate had rejected his bail petition. The 62-year old diamantaire, who has an Interpol Red Notice against him, had mysteriously gone missing on May 23 from Antigua and Barbuda where he has been staying since 2018 as a citizen after fleeing from India.
He was detained in the neighbouring island country of Dominica for illegal entry after a possible romantic escapade with his rumoured girlfriend. Choksi’s lawyers had filed a habeas corpus petition calling his arrest illegal and alleging that he was abducted, tortured and handed over to Dominica authority to deny him rights available to him in Antigua and Barbuda as a citizen.
His lawyers alleged that he was kidnapped from Jolly Harbour in Antigua by policemen looking like Antiguan and Indian and brought to Dominica on a boat. Choksi was also brought before a Roseau magistrate, on the orders of High Court Judge Bernie Stephenson, hearing the habeas corpus matter, to answer charges of illegal entry where he pleaded not guilty but was denied bail. His lawyer in London Michael Polak has filed a complaint with Scotland Yard seeking a probe into alleged abduction and torture of his client.
Polak said Choksi was removed from Antigua and Barbuda, where as a citizen he enjoys rights to approach the British Privy Council as the last resort in cases on his citizenship and extradition, to Dominica where these rights are not available to him. “The aim was to remove him from Antigua to Dominica to diminish his protection under the law. Choksi has ongoing proceedings in Antigua in regards to attempts by the prime minister to remove his citizenship, the only citizenship that he possesses, and to extradite him to India,” he had said.
(With PTI inputs)