Fugitive entrepreneur Mehul Choksi has told the Dominican High Court that he is a law abiding citizen who had left India only for medical treatment, The Times of India reported on Sunday.
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 allegedly fled Antigua and Barbuda. He was allegedly trying to flee to Cuba.
He moved the Dominican High Court after a lower court rejected his bail plea in relation to his illegal entry into the country. “I have extended an invitation to Indian authorities to interview me and ask any questions that they may have of me in relation to any investigation that they are conducting against me,” Choksi claimed in an eight-page affidavit filed on June 3. “I did not evade law enforcement in India. There was no warrant against me by the law enforcement authorities in India when I left India to seek medical treatment in the United States of America.”
The fugitive businessman added that he would not abscond from Dominica and added that the presence of a Red Corner Interpol notice against him did not make him a flight risk.
“The Red Notice is not an international arrest warrant,” he told the court in his submission. “It is merely a request by Interpol on behalf of India to locate and take steps to facilitate my surrender to India through extradition proceedings. The proceedings have already commenced in Antigua and Barbuda. Therefore, I do not intend to leave Dominica unless to travel to Antigua with the permission of the court.”
“There are two pending cases (both filed by me) before the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court in Antigua and Barbuda to determine whether I should be extradited to India,” Choksi added, according to The Times of India. “I have diligently attended every one of my court sessions in Antigua…I am a law-abiding citizen and have no previous convictions.”
His plea added:
“I fear that my health may drastically decline if I am kept in police custody. I am 62 years old and have serious health problems. I am a diabetic, have a brain clot, have heart problems and other medical issues.
If required I am willing to provide cash bail in a reasonable sum… I am able to afford living accommodation in Dominica until the hearing and determination of this charge of illegal entry. I am also able to afford my own security and so do not need any security from the state.”— Mehul Choksi's affidavit in the Dominican High Court
The fugitive businessman had been living in Antigua, where he had secured a passport, since 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.
Last week, the Dominican government had told the magistrate court hearing Choksi’s bail plea that he should be deported to India. The Dominican Public Prosecution Service told the 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.
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.