Fugitive businessman Mehul Choksi has claimed that he was abducted and taken to Dominica to give an interview to a “high-ranking Indian politician”, reported NDTV on Tuesday.
In a five-page complaint filed with the Antigua police on June 2, Choksi also claimed that a woman he has known for a year, Barbara Jabarica, helped his abductors.
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 reportedly trying to flee to Cuba. Choksi has been in judicial custody in Dominica since May 24 and charged with illegally entering the country.
In his complaint, Choksi said that on May 23, Jabarica asked him to pick her up from her house and he reached there at 5.15 pm. Eight to men then beat him up, he alleged. “During this entire ordeal, Jabarica did not even attempt to help me or assist in any way by calling for help from outside,” he claimed. “In fact the manner in which she conducted herself by not helping me and her subsequent lack of initiative in contacting the police clearly shows that she was an integral part of this entire scheme to kidnap me.”
Narrating the abduction, the fugitive businessman said he was taken in a small boat and shifted to a larger one where he met two men of Indian origin and three of Caribbean descent. “The Indian men seemed highly experienced mercenaries or contractors hired specially for this purpose,” he said. “They told me they had been watching me for over a year. Another man asked me about my finances and off-shore accounts. They warned me of dire consequences if I did not cooperate.”
Choksi said he reached Dominica after 17 hours of journey, reported The Indian Express. The fugitive businessman claimed that he was told his citizenship would soon be “fixed” in Dominica and then he would be repatriated to India.
However, Choksi said that the abductors soon realised that the “operation” did not go as planned. “This caused much dismay amongst the crew members as they were constantly getting radio calls enquiring as to why my ‘operation’ had not yet been completed,” he said. “They were getting harried as they were supposed to have handed me over to the ‘authorities’.”
Choksi said the men on the boat told him that he would be handed over to the Dominica police commissioner, adding that the Indian crew did not board the Coast Guard vessel that came to take him. He said that the police chief in Dominica told him he was being arrested because of an Interpol Red Notice against him.
The fugitive businessman also alleged that he was denied medical treatment till a lawyer, Cara Shillingford, found him. Choksi also claimed that a man Narinder Singh, alias “Amarinder Singh”, had called him when he was under arrest and identified himself as the chief agent in his case.
Choksi alleged that Singh put pressure on him to say that he had cooperated with the captors and accompanied them to the Caribbean country of his free will. He further alleged that Singh threatened to harm him and his family if he did not cooperate. “He also said to leave my friendship with Ms Barbara Jabarica out of the picture as it would lead to a public scandal and cause grievous hurt to my wife,” he alleged.
Choksi’s rights will be respected: Dominica PM
Meanwhile, Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said Choksi’s rights will be respected in the country, reported PTI.
“The matter with this Indian citizen is before the courts,” Skerrit said. “The courts will decide what happens to the gentleman and we will allow the court process to go through. I do not like to get involved by making public statements in these matters.”
The fugitive businessman has 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.
He also told the court that he was a law-abiding citizen and that there was no warrant against him when he left India to seek medical treatment in the United States.
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 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.