The Dominica High Court has adjourned the bail hearing of fugitive businessman Mehul Choksi in the case of his illegal entry into the country till June 11, PTI reported on Wednesday.
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 after he allegedly fled Antigua and Barbuda. He was reportedly trying to flee to Cuba. Choksi was detained on May 26 night and has been in judicial custody in Dominica and charged with illegally entering the country.
Choksi’s bail hearing took place before High Court judge Wynante Adrien-Roberts through video-conferencing. During the hearing, acting Director of Public Prosecution Sherma Dalrymple opposed the bail, reported Dominica News Online.
In an affidavit, the fugitive businessman told the High 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.
He had 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.
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.