Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne on Tuesday said he has “no reliable information till date” that fugitive businessman Mehul Choksi has fled the country, reported PTI. The Royal Police Force of the country had said on Tuesday that Choksi was missing.
The 62-year-old, who had been staying in Antigua and Barbuda since 2018, is wanted by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the over Rs 13,000-crore Punjab National Bank fraud case.
In a statement to the Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda, Browne said the authorities were collaborating with the Indian government, neighbouring countries and international police organisations to locate Choksi.
Browne said the businessman had brought a celebrated lawyer from the United Kingdom to represent him in two cases against him in Antigua and Barbuda – extradition and revocation of citizenship. This showed his willingness to stay and contest the cases, he said.
“I do not believe that law enforcement or anyone would have contemplated Mr Choksi would have fled the country,” the prime minister said. “In any case we do not have any reliable information to date that he has fled the country. It is likely he may be still here and law enforcement is utilising all the efforts including all intelligence to try and locate Mr Choksi.”
The prime minister said if Choksi has fled the country, his citizenship will be revoked, reported the Hindustan Times.
Browne also dismissed speculations that Choksi has fled to Cuba. He said no aircraft with a flight plan that had Choksi as passenger has left the country, leaving the only option of travelling by boat. “If he is in Cuba, it would have been by boat and he would have to leave within a matter of 36 hours, which is extremely unlikely,” the prime minister said.
Meanwhile, the police have filed a missing person notice with the International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol, for a yellow notice to be circulated to trace the fugitive businessman, reported News18. A yellow notice is a global police alert for a missing person and is published for victims of parental abductions, criminal abductions or unexplained disappearances.
Choksi was last seen on Sunday around 5.15 pm in his car which was recovered by the police. “Based on additional information received the police have conducted numerous searches but to no avail,” the police force said. Choksi had left his home to go for dinner at a well-known restaurant in the southern part of the island country and was not seen again.
In August 2018, he claimed he had “lawfully applied” to become a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda to expand his business interests in the Caribbean. In January 2019, Choksi had surrendered his Indian citizenship and passport to authorities in Antigua and Barbuda.
The Punjab National Bank fraud came to light in February 2018 when the bank informed the Bombay Stock Exchange that it had detected “fraudulent and unauthorised transactions” worth Rs 11,380 crore at a branch in South Mumbai. A few officials of the public sector bank had allegedly issued fraudulent Letters of Undertaking to his nephew Nirav Modi’s companies. The bank later raised its estimate of the value of the fraud to over Rs 13,000 crore.
Last month, United Kingdom’s Home Minister Priti Patel had approved the extradition of Modi to India, where he will face trial. He was arrested on March 19, 2019, and has been lodged in London’s Wandsworth jail