INDIA. Mumbai: In a setback to India, fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi has been granted interim bail by the Dominican High Court on medical grounds, permitting him to go back to Antigua and Barbuda, where he has been staying for the last few years.
The decision comes as a jolt to Indian investigating agencies awaiting his early extradition to launch proceedings against him in a Rs 13,500 crore scam in the Punjab National Bank, considered to be the biggest fraud in Indian banking history.
Choksi (62), who was staying in Antigua and Barbuda, (after he fled from India in January 2018), went missing on May 23. He was detained in the neighbouring island country Dominica for illegal entry. He was declared a prohibited immigrant by the Ministry of Immigration in Dominica. According to reports, he was captured while he was trying to flee to Cuba in a boat. Whereas his lawyers alleged that he was kidnapped from Jolly Harbour in Antigua, in an elaborate plot hatched by men of Indian origin and a mystery woman who had befriended him during the last six months.
On Wednesday last, Choksi filed a case in the Dominica High Court against the Acting Chief of Police in Roseau, Lincoln Corbette, investigating police officer Alleyne Maximea, minister of national security Rayburn Blackmoore, and magistrate Candia Carette-George. His lawyers sought a declaration from the court that “the decision of the police chief and investigating officer to charge Choksi is an abuse of the process of the court and accordingly unlawful and null and void. To charge him for illegal entry was “not a product of their independent judgment. They allowed themselves to be dictated by third parties, representatives of the Indian government.
Dominican High Court
The matter was heard by Justices Bernie Stephenson and Justice Stephenson, who said that Choksi is being allowed by consent to travel to Antigua for medical care. He must return to Dominica to appear in the case against him for illegally entering the country. Choksi appeared before the High Court virtually from his ward at the Dominica-China Friendship Hospital in Roseau, where he has been admitted. A magistrate court in Dominica had earlier sent Choksi to state prison. Now the Choksi has been asked to deposit a bail amount of 10,000 EC (Eastern Caribbean Dollars) by the court.
Choksi was represented by lawyer Douglas Mendes, a senior counsel from Trinidad. Other lawyers of the Choksi’s legal team included Zena Moore Dyer, Julien Prevost, Gina Dyer Munro, Wayne Norde, and Cara Shillingford Marsh. The state of Dominica was represented by Lennox Lawrence and Jodi Luke in the case of Mehul Choksi’s bail application. At the same time, Lawrence, Luke, and senior counsel Anthony Astaphan argued on behalf of the state in the judicial review case.
Two matters concerning Choksi are being heard by the Dominican High Court. The first matter pertains to his bail application, while the other is an application for leave to file for judicial review. Legal proceedings against him in the illegal entry case and judicial review application stand adjourned until Choksi is certified fit for travel.
After the news of Choksi being held in Dominica surfaced on May 25, India rushed a team of officials led by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) DIG Sharda Raut to make every effort to bring Choksi back based on an Interpol Red Notice against him. The effort was unsuccessful as Choksi’s lawyers moved with unprecedented agility to file a Habeas Corpus petition before the Dominica High Court. The High Court directed Choksi to face trial before a magistrate court for illegal entry and was denied bail. However, he was kept at the Dominica China Friendship Hospital considering his medical condition.
Choksi, the owner of Gitanjali Group, retail jewelry based in Mumbai, with 4,000 stores in India, holds citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda. He along with his nephew Nirav Modi is wanted by Indian authorities in the Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam where it is alleged that the Choksi-Modi duo defrauded the bank of more than Rs 13,500 crore.
A special PMLA court (under the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act, 2002) in March 2018 issued non-bailable arrest warrants against Choksi, his nephew Nirav Modi and Neeshal Modi. Mehul Choksi and Nirav Modi are wanted in India for criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, cheating, and dishonesty including delivery of property, corruption, and money laundering. They allegedly colluded with the PNB Bank officials to defraud the bank. PNB Bank officials at the Brady House branch in Fort, in South Mumbai, issued fake Letters of Undertaking (LoUs). The LoUs were opened in favour of branches of Indian banks for the import of pearls for one year, for which Reserve Bank of India (RBI) guidelines lay out a total period of 90 days from the date of shipment.
Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi fled India in the first week of January 2018, weeks before a multi-crore scam in the Punjab National Bank rocked the Indian banking industry. While Choksi is in Antigua, Nirav Modi is facing extradition from the UK. On July 27, 2018, India had submitted a request to extradite Nirav Modi from the UK.
The UK’s home department in April this year, approved the extradition of Nirav Modi to India about two months after the Westminster Magistrate’s court in London ruled that a prima facie case was made out against him. In its order dated February 25, the Westminster Court had found sufficient grounds warring Modi’s trial in India. It also took on record the evidence furnished by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED), alleging that he had conspired to destroy the proof against him and intimidate witnesses. But Modi has filed an appeal challenging the Magistrate’s order, which is pending.
In the meanwhile, as part of the recovery process, on July 01, the ED recovered Rs 17.25 crore from an account in the United Kingdom belonging to Purvi Modi, Nirav Modi’s sister, which was opened by Nirav Modi. Purvi, has already turned approver in the case.