Mehul Choksi, the fugitive jeweller wanted in India by multiple agencies for loan fraud, surrendered his passport thereby giving up his Indian citizenship.
In a bid to avoid extradition to India, the 59-year-old Choksi surrendered his passport to the Indian High Commission in Antigua. He also reportedly submitted 177 dollars and gave his new address as Jolly Harbour Marks, Antigua.
The foreign ministry had said that Mehul Choksi could not have dual citizenship.
Reacting to the development, Home Minister Rajnath Singh told reporters that the Fugitive Economic Offenders bill passed by the Centre will ensure that all who have fled are brought back to face justice.
“Our government has passed Fugitive Economic Offenders bill. Those who have fled will be brought back. It might take some time but they all will be brought back,” he assured.
The Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018 was signed by President of India in August last year. It defines a “fugitive economic offender” as any individual against whom a warrant for arrest in relation to a Scheduled Offence has been issued by any Court in India, who has left India so as to avoid criminal prosecution or being abroad, refuses to return to India to face criminal prosecution.
Vijay Mallya had in January this year become the first tycoon to be named an economic offender under the new law after a special PMLA court declared him so.
Choksi is the uncle of Nirav Modi, main accused in the Rs 13,500-crore Punjab National Bank fraud.
On 11 July last year, the ED asked a special court in Mumbai to declare Choksi and Nirav Modi as “fugitives” under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance 2018 because they fled from India a month before they were named in the fraudulent case on 31 January.
Choksi took Antiguan citizenship in November 2017 through the Caribbean island nation’s Citizenship by Investment programme. The information about his new citizenship came to light only in July 2018 after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) sent a notice to Antiguan authorities regarding Choksi’s criminal status that was sent to all foreign countries via the Interpol.
In June 2018 Choksi had said that his purpose was to “expand my business interest in the Caribbean” and “to obtain visa free travel access to 130 or so countries”.
He had in September 2018 claimed that “allegations levelled by ED are false and baseless”.
“They have attached my properties illegally without there being any basis for the same,” he said in response to questions posed by ANI via his lawyer.
On a question of the suspension of his Indian passport, Choksi also claimed that after India revoked his passport altogether, he was immobilised on 16 February.
“The passport authorities revoked my passport altogether, in view of which I was immobilised on 16 February. I was approached by passport office which said that my passport had been suspended due to reasons of security threat to India,” he said.
India and Antigua do not have a bilateral extradition pact but the government has been trying to bring back the diamond billionaire from Antigua under a law of the island nation that allows it to send back a fugitive to a designated Commonwealth country.
Choksi is wanted in India by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate probing the PNB fraud, the biggest banking scam in the country. Both Choksi and Modi have Interpol red corner notices against them.