Antigua's assertion that India did not give any adverse report to stall granting of citizenship to Mehul Choksi last year evoked sharp reactions from the authorities here with the government today maintaining the police verification report of the bank fraud accused was "clear" at that time.
Antigua’s assertion that India did not give any adverse report to stall granting of citizenship to Mehul Choksi last year evoked sharp reactions from the authorities here with the government today maintaining the police verification report of the bank fraud accused was “clear” at that time.
A CBI official said the agency has sent an extradition request to the government to be forwarded to Antigua to bring him back.
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While the Antiguan authority responsible for grant of investment-linked citizenship named the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) as one of the Indian agencies to have given such a clearance in case of Choksi, the Indian capital markets regulator rejected the claim saying it neither received any such request, nor provided any such information to the department concerned in Antigua.
Choksi’s application for citizenship in Antigua in May 2017 was accompanied with clearance from the local police as required by norms, Antiguan newspaper the Daily Observer reported, citing a statement from the Citizenship by Investment Unit of Antigua and Barbuda (CIU).
Choksi is one of the alleged masterminds of the USD 2 billion scam in state-run Punjab National Bank and uncle of fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi.
“The said police clearance certificate (PCC) from the Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs Regional Passport Office, Mumbai, certified that there was no adverse information against Mr Mehul Chinubbhai Choksi which would render him ineligible for grant of travel facilities including visa for Antigua and Barbuda,” the report said.
When asked about the PCC to Choksi, a spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs said it was issued by the passport office of Mumbai for Antigua and Barbuda on March 16, 2017 and that it was given on the basis of a clear police verification report (PVR) available on his passport.
“All Passport Issuing Authorities can issue a PCC if there is a clear PVR in the system. In case there is no PVR, then a fresh PVR is obtained prior to issuance of a PCC,” he said.
“As the PVR of Mehul Choksi was clear in the system at the time of issuance of PCC, the process followed by Passport Office, Mumbai was as per extant instructions,” he added.
The report in Antigua said authorities in the island country did a thorough check on Choksi from open source global agencies, including the Interpol, and found “no instance” of any derogatory information against him.
The Antiguan authorities, as part of their own checks, found two instances of Sebi action against Choksi’s firms in 2014 and 2017 and sought more information on them, the report further said.
It further quoted CIU as claiming that Sebi had told authorities in Antigua that one case was “satisfactorily closed” and there was “insufficient evidence” to pursue the second matter.
However, the Indian regulator issued a statement today denying these claims.
“Sebi has neither received any request from the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) of Antigua for updates on any investigation nor provided any such information to CIU,” the regulator said.
As per the Antiguan media report, the CIU has said if there was a warrant against Choksi when his application of citizenship was being processed, Interpol should have been informed about it and it should have been part of national criminal database.
Reacting to the report, the Congress alleged that “shocking details” emerging from Antigua have “exposed the complicity and connivance” of the Modi gvernment in the escape of Choksi to the Caribbean country.
Choksi had fled India on January 4 this year and took oath of allegiance in Antigua on January 15. His citizenship was cleared in November 2017.
On January 16 this year, the USD 2 billion scam was detected by Brady House branch of Punjab National Bank, making it the biggest banking scam in the country.
In a recent response to a question by Congress leader Kapil Sibal, the Finance Ministry said in Rajya Sabha that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) was “intimated” about the complaints regarding the PNB fraud in 2016 and the matter was referred to it.
Under the Citizenship by Investment Program of Antigua and Barbuda, a person can take their passport on a minimum investment of USD 1,00,000 in the NDF investment fund.
Choksi and his companies allegedly availed credit from overseas branches of Indian banks using the fraudulent guarantees of PNB given through letters of undertaking (LoUs) and letters of credit issued by the Brady House branch which were not repaid, bringing liability on the state-run bank, the officials have said.
An LoU is a guarantee given by an issuing bank to Indian banks having branches abroad to grant short-term credit to the applicant.