Antiguan citizenship of Diamantaire Mehul Choksi, a key accused in over Rs 13,000 crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam who fled to the Caribbean nation, will be revoked after he has exhausted his legal options and he will be deported to India, reported the Antigua Observer, quoting Prime Minister Gaston Brown of Antigua and Barbuda.
Antigua, known as one of the several tax havens in the Caribbean, has no extradition treaty with India, but PM Brown told Antigua Observer that his country will not provide “safe harbour for criminals, for those who are involved in financial crimes”.
“His citizenship was processed; he got through but the reality is his citizenship will be revoked and he will be repatriated to India; so there is recourse. It’s not a case that we are trying to provide any safe harbour for criminals, for those who are involved in financial crimes,” Antigua Observer reported, quoting a statement by Prime Minister Browne.
Browne also said, “We have to allow for due process. He has a matter before the court and as we said to the Indian Government, criminals have fundamental rights, too, and Choksi has a right to go to court and defend his position. But I can assure you, after he has exhausted all of his legal options, he will be extradited.”
Clarifying that the government of Antigua and Barbuda has made it a priority to ensure that individuals who will benefit from the country’s Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) undergo intense scrutiny, Browne said that there are a few who may circumvent the process, so the recourse is available.
To remedy the ongoing problem of criminals attempting to sidestep the CIP and use the twin-island as a place of refuge, Browne said that further measures and due diligence will be implemented going forward, according to Antigua Observer.
Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi are the two key accused wanted by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for allegedly defrauding the Punjab National Bank (PNB) to the tune of Rs 13,500 crore in collusion with some of the bank employees.
The multi-crore fraud came to light in early 2018. Both Mehul Choksi and Nirav Modi had fled the country before that. Choksi had left India in January last year. Six months later, it became known that he had taken Antigua citizenship. The process was completed two months before the scam surfaced in January and he was investigated, which was why when Antigua asked India to give details of cases against him, he got a clean chit.
India had cancelled the passports of both Choksi and Nirav Modi in February, after investigators uncovered the huge loan fraud at PNB. Nirav Modi is said to be in Brussels, the capital of Belgium.
In April, Choksi had approached the court claiming that he had not deliberately avoided joining the investigation against him in the Punjab National Bank (PNB) alleged fraud case, but was unable to return because of his medical condition.
Choksi filed an affidavit in Bombay High Court on Monday through his advocate Vijay Aggarwal, stating he had left the country in January 2018 for getting medical check-up and treatment abroad and not to avoid prosecution in the case. The court asked Choksi to send his medical papers and reports to JJ Hospital, so that it can analyse them and submit a report to the court stating whether he is fit to travel to India.
ED had told the Bombay High Court that it was ready to provide an air ambulance to bring Choksi for trial.
The 59-year-old earlier refused to return to India, saying he feared “mob lynching”.