Mr. Mehul Choksi the founder and owner of Gitanjali Group, is a wanted fugitive Indian businessman. Gitanjali Group is a retail jewelry firm with 4,000 stores in India. Over the years, Gitanjali Group expanded its export trade to Belgium, the US, West Asia, Japan, China, Hong Kong, and Thailand. Mr. Choksi, along with his nephew Nirav Modi, is a wanted fugitive by various Indian investigation authorities in the Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam; where it is alleged that the Choksi-Modi duo defrauded the bank of more than Rs 14,000 crore at a single branch in Mumbai. Mr. Choksi is facing criminal proceedings by both CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) before the concerned local Courts.
In 2018, based on a complaint received by Punjab National Bank (PNB) the CBI named Mr. Choksi and his firms including Gitanjali Gems along with others; for alleged issuance of fraudulent Letters of Undertaking in their favor causing losses to the bank. Subsequently, the ED also filed a complaint alleging that Mr. Choksi and others were involved in money-laundering the proceeds of crime in overseas accounts. Mr. Choksi had taken citizenship in Antigua and Barbuda in the year 2017. On the basis of such citizenship, he is protected from being extradited even in a criminal case. Based on current rules, the same proceeding automatically disqualified his Indian citizenship.
Investigators indicated that Mr. Choksi had escaped on/around 25th May 2021 to the country of the Dominica Republic on a boat probably en route to Cuba. With an Interpol lookout circular [Red Corner Notice (RCN)] issued against him, Mr. Choksi was caught by the local Dominican police and is currently in the custody of the Crime Investigative Departments (CID). He has alleged that he was abducted from Jolly Harbour in Antigua and Barbuda by policemen; looking like Antiguan and Indian and taken to Dominica country. He is under detention in the neighboring island country of Dominica for his illegal entry.
Status of Habeas Corpus Plea
Mr. Choksi who was earlier brought before a Roseau magistrate, to answer charges of illegal entry; where he pleaded not guilty but was denied bail on 11.06.2021. On 12.06.2021, Judge Bernie Stephenson of High Court at the Dominica Republic, while hearing his Habeas Corpus matter; gave the ruling that “..Mr. Choksi was a “flight risk”, did not have any ties with Dominica and the court could not impose any conditions which will stop him from leaving their country..”.
Antiguan PM Gaston Browne said in an official interview on 12.06.2021 that “Dominica has agreed to hand Mehul Choksi over to India. We’ll not accept him back. He made a monumental error by skipping the island. The Dominican government and law enforcement agencies are cooperating with us and we have informed the Indian government to have him repatriated to India”.
OVERVIEW OF LAWS INVOLVED
The Red Corner Notice(RCN) herein issued is based on the fact that he is wanted in India for the criminal acts of conspiracy, breach of trust, cheating, dishonesty including delivery of property, corruption, money laundering. Mr. Choksi has been booked under the relevant sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, the Indian Penal Code, and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. At present, there is no extradition treaty between India and the Dominica Republic or with the islands of Antigua and Barbuda.
However, India has separate special extradition arrangements with 11 nations, one of which happens to be Antigua which was signed in the year 2001. This has been invoked by the Indian government since the year 2018 to bring back Mr. Choksi in India. It is also pertinent to mention that in such a case where there is no specific treaty between India and a foreign nation; Section 3(4) of the Extradition Act, 1962 becomes applicable which reads as: “4. Where there is no extradition treaty made by India with any foreign State, the Central Government may, by notified order, treat any Convention to which India and a foreign State are parties, as an extradition treaty made by India with that foreign State providing for extradition in respect of the offences specified in that Convention”.
It is clear from the stand of both the governments of Antigua and the Dominican Republic, that Mr. Choksi is no longer under their protection against the demand of extradition by India or from any other foreign nation at present. Therefore the mechanism to bring him back for a criminal trial in India has been initiated. Although, in such cases of extradition, to create impediments on the way of Choksis’ extradition few common objections could be raised like a violation of his human rights during his current detention and extradition process, misbehavior by police officials, delay in foreign judicial procedures consequently severing his health problems, a glitch in reissuing passport/visa, etc., diplomatic concerns and miscellaneous reasons.
In view of above scenario, no specific time could be estimated for return of Mr. Choksi back to India anytime soon. However, in the recent past, several other examples of extradition made by India have proven to be successful. Like cases of Augusta Westland chopper deal co-accused; Rajiv Saxena was extradited from United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the end of January 2018; British national Christian Michel James was extradited from UAE on December 4, 2018, in a case of cheating and criminal conspiracy as a middleman in Augusta Westland case; Marinoiu Mohd Farooq Yasin, a Romanian national, was extradited from Nicaragua on March 3, 2018, in a bank fraud case and Bannaje Raja was extradited from Morocco on August 14, 2015, on charges of murder.
Expediting case of extradition of Mr. Choksi is indeed a ray of hope in such glooming circumstances; where the Indian economy’s second largest Public Sector Bank (PNB) got frowned into a humongous financial scam amounting to Rs. 1400 crores.
Namrata Sharma, Advocate
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