In an attempt to avoid extradition to India, where he is wanted by multiple agencies for loan fraud, fugitive fraudster Mehul Choksi has surrendered his Indian passport to the High Commission in Guyana, a year after he absconded from Indian law enforcement authorities.
This suggests he has acquired a foreign nationality, dealing a serious blow to the ongoing investigations against him and his nephew Nirav Modi. It comes a month after the Interpol issued a Red Notice Choksi, preventing him from
A legal provision in the Antiguan constitution allows extradition of a fugitive to a designated Commonwealth country, but that route is now closed. The countries do not share a bilateral extradition pact either.
Sources, however, said that the Indian government continues to pursue his return with the Antiguan
The 59-year-old Choksi had absconded in the first week of January last year, citing medical treatment in the US, but according to reports, he had been granted citizenship in Antigua in November 2018. Officials say he has given his new address as Jolly Harbour Marks, Antigua.
The formal surrender of Mehul Choksi’s passport was expected since India does not permit dual citizenship. But it does add to the legal complications to extradite him so he can face trial, depending entirely on India’s diplomatic clout right now.
India has been able to obtain the extradition of several foreigners accused of crimes in India in the past, the latest being Christian Michel involved in the Agusta-Westland Chopper scam.
“Our government has passed Fugitive Economic Offenders bill. Those who have fled will be brought back. It might take some time but they all will be brought back,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh said.
Tracking Choksi so far
Wanted in India along with diamantaire nephew Nirav Modi for a loan fraud worth Rs. 13,000 crore, Choksi notably made headlines last November, saying he does not want to return to India for fear of being lynched. His lawyer also informed Indian investigators that Choksi was reportedly not in a condition to record his statements.
Choksi had further challenged the CBI application seeking issuance of Red Notice, describing it as a political conspiracy and further questioning the dubious jail conditions in India, his personal safety and health to the tune of another fugitive economic offender Vijay Mallya, who was ordered to be extradited by a London court last month.
A Red Notice “is a request to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition. It is issued by the General Secretariat at the request of a member country or an international tribunal based on a valid national arrest warrant. It is not an international arrest warrant”.
When the individual is sought for prosecution, it means they are suspected of committing a crime but have not yet been prosecuted and so should be considered innocent until proven guilty. A Red Notice serves the purpose of lending high, international visibility to such cases, limiting the fugitive’s movements, and making exchange of critical information between member countries easier.
What about Nirav Modi?
The CBI had approached the global investigative agency on June 11 to issue a Red Notice against Modi after filing a charge sheet. In July, the Interpol had issued an Red Notice against the jewellery mogul who was last spotted in Belgium, who remains the main accused in the bank fraud cases.
The Interpol arrest warrant against Choksi similarly arrived on the basis of a request filed by the CBI. The nodal investigative agency had filed a case and started investigating the duo on January 29. The CBI along with the Enforcement Directorate (ED) drew up a separate charge sheet against Choksi in a Mumbai court, alleging that Choksi swindled Rs 7,080.86 crore, making it the country’s biggest banking scam at over Rs 13,000 crore. Nirav Modi allegedly siphoned Rs 6,000 crore.
A brief timeline of the crimes
Modi and his business partner Choksi are wanted in India by several investigating agencies after they colluded to default crores in loans from overseas banks. They availed this enormous credit on the basis of fake guarantees in the form of fraudulent Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) in the name of PNB, India’s second largest public sector bank.
An LoU is a guarantee given by an issuing bank to Indian banks having branches abroad to grant short-term credit to the applicant.
PNB disclosed on February 14 that it was the victim of the country’s largest bank fraud; preliminary investigations showed two officials of the bank had fraudulently issued LoUs to the said firms without following the due process. These fraudulent LoUs were then transmitted across the SWIFT messaging system, based on which credit was offered to the said firms.
The Nirav Modi Global Diamond Jewellery House, started in 2010, boasts of 14 stores around the world including Mumbai, Hong Kong, London, Macau and New York. Ever since his first appearance on the Forbes billionaire list, Modi has been under the radar of law enforcement agencies, including the CBI, Enforcement Directorate (ED), and the tax department for alleged illegal transactions and frauds, for siphoning and laundering money through Dubai shell accounts, personal loans and gifts. Despite being red cornered, it has hardly affected Modi’s business ventures, which he carried out through these shell companies allegedly floated by his father and associates.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.