PNB scam: Antigua to consider 'legitimate request' from India to send back Mehul Choksi

Mehul Choksi is the uncle of fugitive diamantaire and a co-accused in PNB scam Nirav Modi.

PNB scam: Antigua to consider 'legitimate request' from India to send back Mehul Choksi

NEW DELHI: The Government of Antigua has thrown indications that it may consider "a legitimate request" from India to send back the multi-crore Punjab National Bank scam accused Mehul Choksi.

Choksi, who is the uncle of fugitive diamantaire and co-accused in the PNB scam Nirav Modi, has reportedly taken citizenship of Antigua.

According to 'The Daily Observer', during a Cabinet press briefing, the Chief of Staff, Lionel "Max" Hurst, had stated that Antigua and Barbuda government will make every effort 'as per law' to honour a "legitimate" request from India.

The statement was issued following a meeting of the Cabinet during which the issue of Choksi getting a getting citizenship in Antigua in November last year was discussed, the daily said.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has also earlier requested the Interpol to issue a Red Corner Notice against Choksi, which is still and may be granted soon.

During the meeting, the Cabinet underlined that they do not have an extradition treaty with India and that Choksi has not been charged for any crime, the daily reported.

The Cabinet also noted that no formal request has been received by the Antigua and Barbuda government for any action against Choksi from India.

The daily also slammed the Citizenship by Investment unit of Antigua for allowing Choksi to get a passport of Antigua in November last year. In its reply, the CIU said that Choksi's request was allowed after "due diligence" and detailed background check from Interpol.

The CBI has, however, denied that the Interpol ever approached it regarding background checks on Choksi, who was facing inquiries from various agencies last year. 

The Congress-led Opposition has recently sharpened its attack on the Narendra Modi-led BJP government for not taking any action against Choksi and Nirav Modi.

Through a tweet, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi had asked the Centre to explain how Choksi managed to get a passport in Antigua despite facing criminal proceedings in the country.

Posing a series of questions to the BJP government on Wednesday, the Congress party tweeted, ''Getting an Antiguan passport takes 3-4 months and people who are subject to a criminal investigation are ineligible.''

''How did Mehul 'Bhai' get an Antiguan passport in double quick time?'' the party sought to know from the government.

The Congress also clubbed its tweet on the PNB scam with a hashtag #DeshKaChowkidarYaKisiAurKa (watchman of the country or someone else).

Tha main opposition party also claimed that ''on 20 April 2018, PM Modi had tea with the Antiguan PM and soon after, Mehul 'Bhai' escaped to Antigua on an Antiguan passport. Was it a Coincidence?''

The Enforcement Directorate on Thursday moved to a special court in Mumbai seeking to declare Nirav Modi and his uncle Choksi 'fugitive economic offenders' which will enable them to seize their assets in India.

Nirav Modi and Choksi are being investigated by the ED and the CBI after it was detected that they allegedly cheated the Punjab National Bank of more than Rs 13,400 crore with the purported involvement of a few of the lender's employees.

The scam, which reportedly began in 2011, was detected in January this year, after which PNB officials reported it to the probe agencies.

Choksi and Modi fled the country in January this year nearly a fortnight before the scam was detected.

Choksi's actions show that he had planned his escape and subsequent life in advance knowing that the scam would blow up after the retirement of PNB employee Gokulnath Shetty, who was allegedly helping him with the renewal of letters of undertaking, sources said. 

He escaped the country on January 4 on an Indian passport and took the oath of allegiance in Antigua on January 15, they said.

(With Agency inputs)