New Delhi: Wanted by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate in connection with ₹ 14,000 crore PNB loan fraud and money-laundering case, the 62-year-old fugitive jeweller, Mehul Choksi, has reportedly gone missing in the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, to which he fled in 2018.
Mr Choksi’s lawyer, Vijay Aggarwal, confirmed to media on Tuesday morning that his client is missing and that his family is looking for him. He also said Antiguan police had launched a manhunt.
A local media outlet of Antigua quoted Police Commissioner Atlee Rodney as saying his officers were “following up on the whereabouts of Indian businessman Mehul Choksi”.
Sources within the CBI told Indian media that it had not been officially informed that Mr Choksi is missing. The CBI is writing to the Antiguan embassy in India for confirmation and more information, the sources added.
Agency sources also said a Red Notice against Mr Choksi – issued by global police body Interpol in 2018 – meant they will be alerted if he entered any immigration point anywhere in the world.
Meanwhile, intelligence sources, quoting local media in Antigua, say Mr Choksi might have shifted base to Cuba. “We have got such reports (and) we are ascertaining it,” a senior official told media.
Like Antigua, Cuba has no extradition agreement with India.
According to news agency ANI, Mr Choksi left his home Monday evening to go for dinner at a restaurant in the southern part of the island. He has not been seen since. His vehicle was found later but there was no sign of him, local news channels reported.
Mehul Choksi is involved in a long-running legal battle to stop his extradition to India.
He currently holds Antiguan citizenship. Last year Antigua Prime Minister Gaston Browne said that citizenship would be revoked once all of his legal options had been exhausted.
Mr Browne made it clear his country – among many ‘tax havens’ in the Caribbean – will not provide “safe harbour for criminals, for those who are involved in financial crimes”.
“Choksi’s citizenship was processed, he got through. We do have recourse, the reality is his citizenship will be revoked and he will be deported to India,” the Antigua Observer reported Mr Browne as saying.
In March Mr Choksi’s lawyer countered media reports that said citizenship had, in fact, been revoked by an Antiguan civil court. Mr Aggarwal said Mehul Choksi remains an Antiguan citizen.
In an earlier interview with ANI Mr Choksi had protested his innocence and said that the charges against him are false, baseless and motivated by political expediency.
Mr Choksi’s nephew, billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi, 50, is also wanted in connection with the PNB scam case. Like his uncle Mr Modi fled India in 2018 and is currently in the United Kingdom.
Nirav Modi’s extradition to India was cleared by the British government last month. However, Mr Modi can still challenge that extradition order before the UK High Court.
That process may take months or even years, as seen in the case of liquor baron Vijay Mallya, who went to court against his extradition order signed back in February 2019.