Choksi a fugitive from justice, CBI tells court
Mehul Choksi is a fugitive from justice, the chief conspirator and main beneficiary of the fraud perpetrated on Punjab National Bank (PNB) , and is yet to cooperate with the investigations despite repeated summons, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has said in its affidavit filed in Dominica’s high court of justice. The agency called Choksi’s “gratuitous offer” of being interviewed at the place of his choice outside India meaningless, citing the evidence, physical, oral and documentary, with which he needs to be confronted.
The affidavit accuses Choksi of misleading courts in Dominica by claiming there are no proceedings against him in India. He is fully aware of proceedings in India and has even appointed lawyers in the country, says the affidavit, a copy of which has been reviewed by HT.
The affidavit, filed by deputy inspector general Sharda Raut, explains the procedures of investigations and criminal trials in India. It says Choksi, according to the Criminal Procedure Code, cannot be tried in absentia. It is only after an accused is produced in court or appears in court that charges can be framed for a trial to begin, the document points out.
Raut flew to Dominica on May 28 along with other officers in a special jet with documents to back Indian attempts for Choksi’s deportation from Dominica.
Choksi went missing from Antigua and Barbuda, where he is a citizen (and fighting a case on not having his citizenship revoked), on May 23. He was found in Dominica the next day and has since been charged with illegal entry into the Caribbean country.
Choksi’s lawyers, Vijay Aggarwal, Wayne Marsh, and his wife, Priti Choksi, have alleged he was abducted and taken to Dominica.
HT on Saturday reported the two affidavits India has filed in the Dominica court detailing serious fraud charges against Choksi and proof that he continues to be an Indian citizen. That India would argue along these lines in the court was first reported by HT on May 30. Choksi’s lawyers have maintained he has given up his Indian citizenship and hence cannot be deported. India’s argument is that this was not approved by the appropriate authority as required by the rules.
The Dominica court refused to grant Choksi bail on Friday saying he is a flight risk, and that he has no ties to the country. It observed the court cannot impose any conditions to ensure he will not abscond.
The CBI affidavit has called Choksi the “mastermind” behind a series of shell companies used to launder money from the fraud on the state-owned bank. It says there is evidence that the businessman laundered funds using dummy companies and market operators, round-tripped in the guise of fraudulent export-import transactions with entities in places such as Dubai and Hong Kong.
The affidavit says Choksi owes $950 million (close to ₹7,000 crore) to the bank, in which the Indian government has an 85% stake. It adds the CBI made attempts to arrest Choksi after the fraud was unearthed in 2018, but his whereabouts were unknown.
The CBI affidavit says there is an Interpol red notice issued against Choksi, which is the highest level of notice that can be issued in respect of a fugitive.
It also refers to other cases under investigation against Choksi in India. They include fraud cases registered in Bengaluru and Delhi in 2015 and 2016 as well as a 2018 cheating case.
Vijay Aggarwal, Choksi’s lawyer, said the defence team is not bothered by the affidavit as the facts stated therein are not relevant considerations before the court hearing his client’s bail plea. He added they have the liberty to reapply for bail. “Every day in custody is a fresh circumstance and bail can be re-applied (for). The court has not ruled on merits but only on the ground that we need to satisfy the court about my client‘s presence in Dominica to face the trial and prove his innocence.”