Mehul Choksi cannot be removed from Antigua and Barbuda, the Caribbean country’s High Court said on Friday (April 14), ANI reported. This ruling is in a civil suit that Choksi filed demanding an investigation into his 2021 “kidnapping”.
This comes as the latest relief for the 63-year old fugitive businessman who is wanted in India for carrying out one of the country’s most notorious banking scams worth Rs 13,000 crore.
Earlier in March, in what was a setback for the CBI and India’s efforts to bring Choksi back to its shores, the Interpol withdrew the Red Corner Notice (RCN) issued against him – allowing him to move freely, across the world.
Choksi’s version of events vis a vis his kidnapping
Choksi, who has Antiguan citizenship, fled to the country in 2017 following revelations regarding his scam.
In May 2021, he went missing from the country, and would later turn up in neighbouring Dominica. Choksi has claimed that he was kidnapped by agents of the Indian state. His civil suit at the Antigua and Barbuda High Court gives his version of events, supporting his claims of “collusion, forced abduction, removal from Antigua and Barbuda, assault, and battery.”
The suit says that on May 23, 2021 Choksi went to a villa in Jolly Harbour at the instance of a person he had previously met. Upon entering the villa, he was immediately surrounded by six to eight men who claimed to be from the Antiguan police force, though none were in uniform.
When Choksi asked for his lawyers, his request was denied and he was physically restrained and tortured by these men. He was then gagged, blindfolded and tied to a wheelchair, then taken to a nearby vessel. Once aboard, he was questioned by the men aboard – including three men Choksi claims belonged to the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). The men allegedly told him that they had been observing him for over a year and described private details from his life, threatening him and his family once back in India. They demanded details of hidden bank accounts, claims the suit.
Choksi claims that he was told to admit to wrongdoing in relation to the Punjab National Bank Case and implicate a specific group. When he refused, he was further threatened and tortured. According to his court submissions, one of his captors said to him that “I will tie you upside down and skin you alive, and your family would be next. I have done this many times before.” On another occasion, one of the men took out a knife and put it to his throat and issued further threats, according to the suit.
After being at sea for approximately 15 to 17 hours, the vessel stopped in Dominican waters. He was removed from the vessel and placed on a coast guard vessel, staffed by men in dark blue uniforms. None of his captors boarded the other vessel.
The court’s ruling
Choksi was sent back to Antigua from Dominica, following which, he filed the aforementioned civil suit seeking a prompt and thorough investigation into his forcible removal from Antigua and Barbuda and protection from further such removal.
The court ruled in his favour, with its order prohibiting the removal of Choksi from the country without a High Court ruling and subject to him exhausting all available legal remedies, including appeals.
“Further or in the alternative, a Declaration that the first Defendant is to establish an independent, judicial inquiry as to the circumstances of the Claimant (Mehul Choksi)’s forcible abduction and removal from the jurisdiction of Antigua and Barbuda on or around 23 May 2021. A Declaration that the second Defendant has a duty to confirm to the Dominican police that the evidence supports that the Claimant was forcibly removed from the jurisdiction and taken to Dominica against his will,” the court order read, as reported by ANI.
“An Order that the Claimant may not be caused to leave and/or be removed from the jurisdiction of Antigua and Barbuda without an order from the High Court after an inter partes hearing and subject to the Claimant exhausting any appeals or other legal relief provided by law. An Order that the second Defendant releases the statement taken by its officers from the Claimant on 15 August 2021,” it stated.
Mehul Choksi and the Punjab National Bank scam
As the chairman of Gitanjali Gems, a prominent jewellery retail chain, Choksi was once celebrated as a prominent figure in the Indian diamond industry.
At the heart of his fall from grace is the alleged scam involving Punjab National Bank (PNB), one of India’s largest public sector banks. In early 2018, PNB shocked the nation by revealing that Choksi, along with his nephew Nirav Modi, had defrauded the bank of over Rs 13,000 crore (approximately $1.8 billion). The scam involved the fraudulent issuance of Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) by PNB officials, which were then used by Choksi and Modi to obtain loans from other banks, both in India and abroad.
Choksi’s modus operandi involved setting up a complex web of shell companies in India and abroad, through which the fraudulent transactions were routed. The funds obtained from the banks were allegedly syphoned off to buy properties, luxury cars, and other high-value assets. It is alleged that Choksi used his political connections and influence to manipulate the banking system and perpetrate the scam over a period of several years.
Choksi’s escape from India shortly before the scandal came to light added a dramatic twist to the saga. He fled to Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean, where he had acquired citizenship through an investment program. Since then, Choksi has been fighting a protracted legal battle to avoid extradition to India, even as the Indian government has been pursuing his repatriation to face trial.