Indian team returns from Dominica after court adjourns Choksi case

Wednesday 09th June 2021 06:47 EDT

A multi-agency team which had gone to Dominica for deportation of fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi returned to India in a Qatar Airways private jet after Dominica High Court adjourned the hearing, sources said. The jet carrying the team led by CBI DIG Sharda Raut departed the Melville Hall Airport in Dominica on June 3 and returned to the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi.

The team remained stationed for nearly seven days to bring Choksi, wanted in £1.35 billion bank fraud in Punjab National Bank, to India as legal battle continued in the courts of Dominica. On Thursday last, the Dominica High Court adjourned the hearing on a habeas corpus petition filed by Choksi's lawyers. A habeas corpus petition is filed for producing before a court a person who is under arrest or in unlawful detention.

It is likely that the next hearing may take place after a month and the businessman will remain in Dominica, local media reported. Judge Bernie Stephenson will decide the next date of hearing after meeting both sides, media outlet Antigua News Room said. The adjournment is to allow the lawyers of Choksi and the Dominica government to agree on the language to be used with respect to the injunction filed to prevent his removal from Dominica, it said.

Thursday's hearing was conducted through videoconferencing with a group of protesters standing outside the High Court building in Roseau carrying placards with messages seeking to know the truth about the controversy. "Who brought Choksi to Dominica?" read one of the placards, the photo of which was published by many media outlets.

The judge had ordered production of Choksi before the magistrate to face charges of illegal entry into Dominica. The 62-year-old wheelchair-bound diamantaire, who has a pending Interpol Red Notice against him, arrived before presiding Roseau Magistrate Court from the Dominica-China Friendship Hospital, where he is undergoing treatment. His application for bail was rejected.

Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi had fled India in the first week of January 2018, weeks before the PNB scam rocked the Indian banking industry. The duo allegedly bribed officials of the state-run bank to get Letters of Undertaking (LoU) on the basis of which they availed loans from overseas banks that remained unpaid. The allegedly corrupt bank officials did not enter these LoUs in the core banking software of PNB, thus evading scrutiny.

The non-payment of these LoUs or bank guarantees worth £1.35 billion resulted in default and became a liability on the bank. Choksi had mysteriously gone missing on May 23 from Antigua and Barbuda, where he has been staying since 2018 as a citizen since he fled Delhi. He was detained in neighbouring island country Dominica for illegal entry after a possible romantic escapade with his rumoured girlfriend.

His lawyers alleged that he was kidnapped from Jolly Harbour in Antigua by policemen looking like Antiguan and Indian and brought to Dominica on a boat. Modi escaped to Europe and was finally held in London, where he is contesting his extradition to India. Choksi took the citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda in 2017.

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