A magistrate court in Dominica on Wednesday rejected the bail plea of fugitive diamond trader Mehul Choksi in relation to his illegal entry into the country, reported The Indian Express. Meanwhile, the Indian foreign ministry said that the government will continue to “make all efforts” to bring him back.
Choksi, 62, who is wanted by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate in India in connection with the Rs 13,000-crore Punjab National Bank fraud case, was caught in Dominica on May 26 after he fled Antigua and Barbuda. He was allegedly trying to flee to Cuba.
“India remains steadfast in its efforts that fugitives are brought back to India,” ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said at a routine press briefing on Thursday evening. “He [Choksi] is currently in the custody of Dominican authorities and certain legal proceedings are underway.”
However, Bagchi did not respond to a number of questions asked by journalists, including on whether Choksi was an Indian citizen and if the Union government will become a party to the ongoing case in Dominica. The foreign ministry spokesperson said that details on the legal and technical aspects of the case will have to be answered by the home ministry.
Rejecting his bail plea, the Dominican court sent Choksi to a hospital under police protection so that his injuries can be treated.
The magistrate court passed the ruling after the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court directed that the fugitive businessman should be produced before it. The Supreme Court made the observation while hearing Choksi’s plea against deportation to India.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Dominican government told the court that Choksi should be deported to India, reported NDTV. The Dominican Public Prosecution Service has told the country’s High Court that the businessman’s plea was not maintainable and should not be taken up.
On May 28, a Dominican court had extended the stay on Choksi’s deportation from the Caribbean island country till June 2. Choksi’s lawyers had argued that he was no longer a citizen of India and so he could not be sent there.
However, an Indian government official told NDTV that the administration would push for Choksi’s early deportation as he was still an Indian citizen. An official of India’s Home Ministry told the channel that Choksi may have acquired the citizenship in Antigua through false declarations “and we have been opposing it”.
But Choksi’s counsel cited Article 9 of the Indian Constitution that said any person who obtains citizenship of another country automatically is not a citizen of India.
Meanwhile, Priti Choksi, the wife of the businessman, claimed that he was being treated like a criminal because of Antigua Prime Minister Gaston Browne, reported the Hindustan Times. “We, as a family, are deeply anguished by PM Gaston Browne’s statements,” she said. “My husband is treated as a criminal here [Antigua] because of the statements that Mr Gaston Browne has made in the past of calling him a ‘crook’, etc...and on what basis, I have no idea. A man who was trying to live his life quietly is being targeted in this manner.”
The fugitive businessman had been living in Antigua, where he had secured a passport, after he left India in 2018, just weeks before the Punjab National Bank fraud came to light. Following Choksi’s detention on the night of May 26, Antigua refused to take him back and Prime Minister Gaston Browne had said the country was in talks with the Dominican as well as Indian governments for his repatriation to India.
The PNB fraud case
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.
Some officials of the public sector bank had allegedly issued fraudulent Letters of Undertaking to companies belonging to Choksi’s nephew Nirav Modi, a diamond businessman. The bank later raised its estimate of the value of the fraud to over Rs 13,000 crore.
In April, 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.