'Crook' Mehul Choksi will be deported to India: Antigua PM
The days of Mehul Choksi's freedom are numbered and if all goes well, he will be deported to India, a statement from Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister has hinted. Gaston Browne, the head of the country where Choksi took refuge after cheating Punjab National Bank (PNB) of crores, said that the embattled diamantaire will be sent to India after he exhausts his legal options.
In New York, Browne was asked about Choksi, who got citizenship of Antigua weeks before PNB scam- one of the biggest frauds in Indian banking history, surfaced. Calling him a "crook", Browne said he adds no "value to the country". "He will be deported ultimately after he exhausts appeals. Indian officials are free to investigate based on his willingness to participate," Browne told ANI.
Browne gave a free hand to Indian agencies to probe Choksi and said it has nothing to do with his government. When asked about giving citizenship to Choksi, he said, "Our officials acted based on information from India and made him a citizen...the Indian officials have to take the responsibility for that situation." Antigua is one of the tax havens in the Caribbean.
Interestingly, India has no extradition treaty with Antigua which made things difficult for the investigative agencies. In June, External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had said, "We have told them (Antigua) about the urgency. There is a certain process that has to be followed. What we were told is that the extradition request still remains under the consideration of Antigua and Barbuda authorities."
Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi, pulled off the PNB scam, with some help from employees. They got fraudulent Letters of Understanding issued, which helped them obtain loans from other banks. Before PNB went public with the scam in February 2018, Modi, Choksi, and their relatives fled India. Since Choksi applied for Antigua citizenship before the scam surfaced, Indian authorities didn't stop his request.
So far, Choksi has refused to return to India and even said he feared he will be lynched by a mob. In an interview, he claimed he was being targeted. "Both the opposition and the ruling party are using my name for political gains. How can corruption charges be leveled against me when I have not committed any fraud?" Choksi told The Week.
"How is it possible that such a large amount of money was going in and coming out without the knowledge of the bank? At least 250 people would be working in that bank. It is a complete failure on the part of the bank," he added.
While Choksi is at risk of being extradited, Modi is lodged in a prison in the UK since March. After allegedly committing the fraud of over Rs. 13,000 crore, Modi started a new business in the UK. He applied for bail numerous times but the court noted that there are chances he might hamper evidence, and denied him any relief.