Dominican court blocks fugitive Indian-born jeweller’s removal

Move throws up another hurdle to India’s attempts to have Mehul Choksi brought home and tried in its largest bank fraud case.

People walk past Punjab National Bank''s Brady House branch in Mumbai
Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi are accused of defrauding India's Punjab National Bank of about $2.2 bn [File: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

A Dominican court has restrained local authorities from removing fugitive jeweller Mehul Choksi from the country, throwing up another hurdle to New Delhi’s attempts to have him brought home and tried in India’s largest bank fraud case.

Choksi, who was born in India, was captured in Dominica earlier this week after going missing from the Caribbean nation of Antigua on Sunday, triggering a global manhunt.

He had been living in Antigua where he had secured a passport, after fleeing India before the fraud came to light. He is one of the main defendants in the case.

After Choksi was arrested, Antigua refused to take him back.

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne told Reuters news agency’s Indian partner, ANI, that the country was in talks with the Dominican as well as Indian governments for his repatriation to India.

The court order blocking his repatriation came after Choksi filed a habeas corpus petition, which determines whether a detention is lawful, against Dominican authorities, Vijay Aggarwal, his lawyer in India, told Reuters.

The court has allowed Choksi access to legal assistance, Aggarwal said, adding that the case will be heard on Friday.

Indian federal police have filed fraud charges against Choksi, his nephew, Nirav Modi, and others in connection with their suspected involvement in fraudulent transactions that led to losses of about $2bn for India’s Punjab National Bank (PNB).

PNB alleged in 2018 that a few rogue employees had issued fake bank guarantees over several years to help jewellery groups controlled by Modi and Choksi to raise funds in foreign credit.

Modi and Choksi travelled abroad in January 2018 and have not returned since. Both have denied any wrongdoing.

Modi was arrested in London in 2019 and is fighting extradition to India, while New Delhi has been pushing for Choksi’s extradition from Antigua and Barbuda.

Soon after Choksi left India in 2018, he surfaced in Antigua and Barbuda, where he acquired citizenship. He mysteriously went missing on Sunday, after which police in Antigua requested that Interpol issue a global alert.

Choksi was subsequently arrested in neighbouring Dominica.

“He was arrested by the police from the north of Dominica. Since the area does not have an airport, we believe he used a boat to enter Dominica illegally,” India’s News18 channel quoted a spokesperson of the Dominican police as saying.

Police said Choksi was spotted on the Canefield beach in Dominica’s capital, Roseau, disposing of documents at sea, according to News18.

Police on duty at the beach found his actions suspicious. They first questioned and then arrested him.

“We have asked the Dominican government to detain him for entering their country illegally… and have him deported directly to India,” Browne was quoted as saying by News18.

Source: News Agencies