Setback for India as Interpol removes Mehul Choksi’s name from wanted list

The cancellation of the red corner notice will allow Mehul Choksi to travel freely across the world.

Setback for India as Interpol removes Mehul Choksi’s name from wanted list
Mehul Choksi

Fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi’s name has been removed from the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) database of Red Notices on the basis of his plea to the global policy body, reports said on Monday.

Four years after adding Choksi’s name to Interpol’s wanted list, the agency’s decision to strike off his name is a huge setback for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Indian government.

While the Indian government “vehemently contested” the withdrawal of the notice, in its order, Interpol said: “There is credible possibility that the applicant’s abduction from Antigua to Dominica had the ultimate purpose of deporting the applicant to India,” adding that Choksi may face the risk of “not receiving a fair trial or treatment if returned to India”.

Choksi, who is accused of defrauding Punjab National Bank of over Rs 13,000 crore, had approached the agency in 2022 for a review of his red notice citing his alleged abduction from Antigua and Barbuda.

The fugitive also filed a plea in the Antigua high court accusing the Indian Government and two Indian agents of having abducted him from Antigua and taking him to the Dominican Republic, against his will, in June 2021.

With the red corner notice now cancelled, Choksi can travel to any other country at will, making it difficult for India to locate and initiate further extradition proceedings from that country.

According to sources, the CBI will formally file a plea contesting the Interpol decision. The CBI and the ED, through the Ministry of External Affairs, will also contest the Antiguan court order in the alleged abduction case that formed the basis for the withdrawal of the Red Corner Notice (RCN).

The RCN is the highest form of an alert issued by the 195-member nation-strong Interpol to law enforcement agencies worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action.

People familiar with the matter said that the Interpol decision is a huge embarrassment for the government, as the agency reportedly accepted the contention that the plot to kidnap Mehul Choksi was at the behest of the Indian government.

Opposition leaders take a swipe at the Modi government

Meanwhile, Opposition leaders wasted no time to take a swipe at the Modi government over Mehul Choksi’s name being removed from Interpol’s wanted list.

Aam Aadmi Party’s Raghav Chaddha, in a tweet, asked: “What did the BJP Govt do? Gave NOC for his Antiguan Citizenship allowing him to escape freely. Now Interpol has removed the red corner notice against him. Meanwhile, ED & CBI are busy targeting the opposition with fake cases.”

Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala, on the other hand, said that the Modi government left India ‘red faced’ by failing to prevent Mehul Choksi’s removal from Interpol’s List of Red Corner Notices!

He tweeted: “Rs 13,000 crore PNB fraud now closed for “HAMARE BHAI MEHUL”! People’s Money down the drain.”

Wilful defaulter

Choksi, who along with his nephew and co-accused Nirav Modi, also a diamantaire and a Belgian businessman, fled India in 2018, and acquired Antiguan citizenship.

It is alleged that Choksi made the PNB issue 143 Letters of Undertaking (LOUs) and 225 Foreign Letters of Credit amounting to over Rs 5,000 crore to three of his companies. These, in effect, make Choksi India’s biggest wilful defaulter and a bigger defaulter than Nirav Modi.

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First published on: 21-03-2023 at 12:53 IST