Choksi's detention: India steps up pressure on Antigua

Choksi's detention: India steps up pressure on Antigua

Diamantaire Mehul Choksi

India on Monday sent its envoy to Antigua and Barbuda to nudge the government of the island nation in West Indies to detain diamantaire Mehul Choksi, who allegedly colluded with billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi to defraud Punjab National Bank of Rs 14,000 crore.

V Mahalingam, India's High Commissioner to Guyana, reached St Johns, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda (A&B), on Monday to meet top brass of the government of the tiny archipelago. Sources in New Delhi said that Mahalingam would reiterate the request of the Government of India to the authorities in St Johns to detain Choksi.

Mahalingam, who is also accredited as India's envoy to A&B, will ask the government of the island nation to prevent the fugitive owner of Gitanjali Jeweller from travelling out of the archipelago by land, air and sea, sources said on Monday.

Modi and his uncle Choksi fled the country in the first week of January, several days before the Central Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement Directorate launched probes against them for allegedly defrauding Punjab National Bank of Rs 14,000 crore.

The Ministry of External Affairs suspended the validity of the passports of Modi and Choksi on February 16, acting on the advice of the probe agencies.

Modi remains untraceable, but Choksi has of late been traced to Antigua.

Choksi has in fact been granted citizenship by the A&B Government.

The reports received in New Delhi indicated that the A&B Government had granted citizenship to Choksi in November 2017 – much before the scam came to light and the CBI and ED started investigation. He had taken oath as a citizen of the Caribbean Island nation on January 15 this year.

The A&B Government's decision to grant citizenship to the fugitive diamantaire was defended by Prime Minister of the country Gaston Browne himself. Browne recently told a TV channel that Government of India should have got Interpol to issue a Red Corner Notice against Choksi. He also said that his government had found nothing against Choksi when he was granted citizenship in November 2017.

The Interpol earlier this month issued a Red Corner Notice against Modi, but no such notice was issued against Choksi so far.

Browne told a TV channel that A&B authorities could cooperate with Government of India to find Choksi if it was formally requested to do so.

Sources in New Delhi on Monday said that as soon as the MEA had received information that Choksi might be in Antigua, the High Commission of India at Georgetown in Guyana had “alerted” the government of the island nation, “both in writing and verbally”. The High Commission of India to Guyana had asked the A&B Government “to confirm his presence in their territory and detain him and prevent his movement by land, air or sea”, added the sources.

Sources said the MEA would continue to liaise with other government agencies as well as the A&B authorities to follow up on the issue.