All you need to know about the Mehul Choksi case

Gaurav Thakur | Updated: June 21, 2021, 10:21 IST

All you need to know about the Mehul Choksi case

In the latest chargesheet filed by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against fugitive Diamond Merchant, Mehul Choksi, it has added 'destruction of charges' to the already long list of charges. CBI has accused Choksi of cheating, forgery, falsifying accounts, criminal conspiracy, and bribery under the Prevention of Corruption Act. The first chargesheet, filed back in 2018, accused Choksi and 21 other individuals in the case.

The latest supplementary chargesheet is expected to be shared with authorities, and the High Court of Justice in Dominica in a bid to bring Choksi back from the Caribbean islands. Choksi, the main accused in 13,500 cr Punjab National Bank scam, currently remains arrested in Dominica where he is facing charges of illegal entry.

What's happening in the Carribbean?

Mehul Choksi mysteriously disappeared from the islands of Antigua and Barbuda on May 23. Antigua and Barbuda is a country in the Eastern Caribbean. Choksi was an Antiguan citizen since 2018. His disappearance initiated a political clash in Antiguan Parliament as the opposition slammed the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, by accusing him of collaborating with India.

Probe to find him was launched soon by Antiguan authorities. While many expected him to move out to Cuba, he turned up in Dominica, another island group about 180 kilometres away from Antigua. He was arrested in Dominica on the charges of illegal entry. Indian authorities soon sent a private plane with a team of 8 officials to facilitate his extradition back to the country, but the matter remains in the Eastern Caribbean Court as of now. India has no extradition treaty with Dominica.

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Also read: Extradition laws in India 

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Some reports suggested that Mehul Choksi had fled Antigua fearing his extradition to move out to Cuba. India has extradition treaty with 50 countries, but Cuba is not one of them. According to these reports, Choksi's plans failed and he ended up in Dominica. Choksi's lawyers have refuted all these claims stating that Choksi was abducted from Antigua, and was forcefully brought to Dominica after being honey trapped by a woman. According to his lawyers, the businessman was a friend of that woman for six months now, and she with some other men had abducted him on May 23, and brought him to Dominica on a yacht. They also say that the people on Yacht appeared to be Indian and Antiguan officials.

The High Court of Justice Commonwealth of Dominica has currently issued a stay order on his repatriation from the country. Indian authorities are expected to face a lot of hurdles in the extradition process.

The citizenship saga

The citizenship of Mehul Choksi is expected to make things tougher for Indian authorities. Choksi's lawyers claim that he is no longer a citizen of India as India does not allow a person to have double citizenship. According to Indian laws, as soon as a person acquires the citizenship of another country, he/she ceases to be an Indian citizen.  

“Any citizen of India who by naturalisation, registration, otherwise voluntarily acquires, or has at any time between the 26th January, 1950 and the commencement of this Act, voluntarily acquired the citizenship of another country shall, upon such acquisition or, as the case may be, such commencement, cease to be a citizen of India,”. Section 9 of Indian Citizenship Act, 1955, states.

India has argued that it has not yet cancelled Choksi's Indian citizenship. "Choksi submitted an application to the Indian mission in Guyana in 2018, renouncing his citizenship, but Home Ministry advised consular office in India to 'consider rejection of his declaration of renunciation', citing various deficiencies", said an affidavit filed by the Indian authorities in the Dominican court. The affidavit argues that since Choksi has not contested this decision in India, he remains an Indian citizen.

Indian authorities have also said that since Choksi obtained Antiguan citizenship by 'fraud', the claim regarding his citizenship cancellation cannot be maintained. Choksi's lawyers termed this affidavit as "uncalled for."

Mehul Choksi obtained an Antiguan citizenship in 2017 under its Citizenship by Investment Program some weeks before his departure from India. He has been in Antigua since then. Antiguan authorities have also been attempting to cancel his citizenship, and even his Antiguan citizenship's matter is in court. Choksi also claimed that he was brutally beaten Indian and Antiguan during his abduction. He also shared pictures of bruises over his body with red eyes. These injuries have added another layer in this case.

The politics in both the islands is also playing its role. Antigua and Barbuda's Prime Minister Gaston Browne has been quite vocal about his willingness to support Indian cause. He told ANI in an interview that Choksi will not be allowed to enter Antigua. He also urged Dominica to directly send him to India rather than sending him back to Antigua, where he will enjoy legal protection due to his citizenship.

The opposition party in Antigua has not been happy with Browne's stance. He has accused the Prime Minister of collaborating with India to send an Antiguan citizen out of his country.

There are also reports that the Opposition party in Antigua and the Dominican Government are planning to help Choksi's cause in return of political funding. According to local media of Antigua, the businessman is trying to build local political support for himself.

The scam

Diamond Merchants Neerav Modi and Mehul Choksi allegedly cheated Punjab National Bank (PNB) by availing credits worth more than ₹7000 cr from foreign banks on the basis of fraud Letter of Understanding (LoU) issued by PNB staff which were siphoned by them. The higher level officials of Brady House branch of Mumbai in PNB had full knowledge of the fraudulent transactions.

An LoU is a guarantee given by an issuing bank to Indian banks having branches abroad to grant short-term credit to the applicant.

Choksi combined with bank officials to get 165 LoUs and 58 FLCs (Foreign Letters of Credit) by fraud, according to the latest chargesheet. CBI suspects a total of 347 fraud LoUs and FLCs between 2014 and 2016.

Before the scam gained public knowledge, Choksi moved out of India. Indian authorities, since then, have been trying to bring him back to the country. Nirav Modi is residing in London while his partner in crime was staying in Antigua all this while.

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