Mehul Choksi booked for destruction of evidence in CBI's fresh charge sheet
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on June 10 filed a fresh charge sheet against diamantaire Mehul Choksi and 21 others in Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam in which the fugitive has been charged with destruction of evidence for the first time.
The agency’s charge sheet claims Choksi, in connivance with officials of PNB, got 165 Letters of Undertaking (LOUs) and 58 FLCs (Foreign Letters of Credit) issued fraudulently in 2017 causing loss of ₹6,097 crore ($952 million) to the bank and then indulged in a cover-up.
The supplementary charge sheet charges Choksi under sections 201 (destruction of evidence), and cheating, criminal conspiracy and prevention of corruption act.
Officials familiar with developments said the latest charge sheet will be shared with authorities and court in Dominica to boost India’s deportation plea. HT has accessed a copy of the charge sheet.
Apart from Choksi, 21 individuals and companies are named in the charge sheet, including retired deputy manager of PNB Gokulnath Shetty, single window operator Hanumant Karat, former managing director of Allahabad Bank Usha Ananthasubramaniam, former executive directors of PNB KV Brahmaji Rao and Sanjiv Sharan, former general manager of the bank Nehal Ahad, former vice president of Choksi’s Gitanjali Group Vipul Chitalia, and several companies.
The charge sheet says, “In December 2017, Mehul Choksi visited Hong Kong and met dummy directors of Hong Kong-based supplier entities (controlled by him) and told them that problems are going on in India related to his company – Gitanjali Group and that they might have to face Enforcement Directorate (ED) enquiries.”
“This shows that Mehul Choksi had prior knowledge about the impending criminal proceedings. Hence, he fled the country on January 4, 2018, with dishonest intent, to evade the process of law”.
Choksi also told his companies’ dummy directors in Hong Kong that they must apply for Thailand visa as the operation in Hong Kong would be closed, the charge sheet adds. “He got them (dummy directors) shifted to Bangkok in February 2018, when fraud came to light, and persuaded them not to visit India to face investigating agencies.”
CBI has stated it is further investigating the bogus LOUs and FLCs issued in favour of Choksi’s companies in 2014, 2015 and 2016. It is suspected that total 347 bogus FLCs were issued between 2014 and 2016.
The investigators, during raids in 2018, recovered records of fraudulent LOUs and FLCs transactions maintained in the Google drive by Vipul Chitalia at the behest of Mehul Chinubhai Choksi, which have been included in the charge sheet.
CBI has said it is also probing alleged diversion of another ₹942 crore by Choksi’s companies, including Asmi Jewellery India Ltd as well as the role of chief internal auditor of PNB, Brady House branch, Bishnubrata Mishra.
The premier agency, as reported by HT, filed an affidavit in Dominica HC saying that Choksi is a fugitive from justice, the chief conspirator and main beneficiary of the PNB scam, and is yet to join investigations despite repeated summons. It has claimed that there is string, oral and documentary, evidence against the businessman in $950 million scam.
The government, while seeking his deportation to New Delhi, has also informed the Dominica high court last week that Choksi is still an Indian citizen and needs to face the law here.
Choksi went missing from Antigua and Barbuda, where he is a citizen, on May 23. He was found in Dominica the next day and has since been charged with illegal entry into the Caribbean country. His lawyers, Vijay Aggarwal, Wayne Marsh, and his wife, Priti Choksi, have alleged he was abducted and taken to Dominica.
Reacting to the CBI’s latest charge sheet, Vijay Aggarwal said on Wednesday, “This supplementary charge sheet after three years shows that it is only an attempt to cover up anomalies that the defence has pointed out in first charge sheet. Moreover, addition of section 201 of IPC (destruction of evidence) is not legally tenable as a document becomes evidence only after filing of the court, and the allegations are of a period much prior to even First Information Report (FIR).”