Mehul Choksi may well be out of India's reach now. The fugitive diamantaire, who is the uncle of Nirav Modi, has shifted base to Antigua and obtained a local passport. Choki along with nephew Modi has been accused of swindling over Rs 11,000 crore issued using fraudulent LoUs from Punjab National Bank’s Brady House branch in Mumbai.
Last month, the Enforcement Directorate stated in a Mumbai court that both Mehul Choksi and Nirav Modi should be declared as “fugitive economic offenders” and their assets amounting to Rs 3500 crores should be confiscated. As Choksi has fled to the Caribbean Island of Antigua, his lawyer reveals that he won’t be returning to India anytime soon due to the fear of mob lynching.
An application has been filed before a special PMLA court to call off a non-bailable warrant that was issued against Mehul Choksi. As per the application, Choksi has been a law-abiding citizen and has always responded to all communication, but, the poor conditions of prisons in India and the threats that he would have to face from hardened criminals, forces him to stay away from the country.
In light of the scenario playing out, we got in touch with renowned lawyer Abha Singh to understand what the possibilities of Choksi being extradited are. Singh is of the opinion that chances of his return are bleak. “The goof-up that the Government of India did was to only issue a red corner notice against Nirav Modi. So, we have not moved with a great speed with regards to Choksi. Had we moved at a great speed and the red corner notice issued by the Interpol then, maybe he could not have gone to Antigua. Because if there is a red corner notice at the airports, he would have been arrested already. So, we have delayed that and the advantage taken is that he has gone there and obtained a passport. What happens now is, the Government will have to apply under extradition. And for extradition, we will have to file not in India but in Antigua and the problem is that these small islands, for a big amount of money, they give you a citizenship."
"In these countries, economic offences are not taken very seriously. Had it been related to terrorism or drugs, extradition would have been easy, but now as this is an economic offence, the country may not take it seriously. So, it will be difficult for us to bring him back to India. Difficult but not impossible because if the pressure come from the international convention, it will still be a long drawn process,” Singh added.
While Singh is of the opinion that an extradition is not impossible, it isn't going to be to a smooth ride either. “His property can be confiscated because he owes around Rs 6500 crores, the remaining Rs 7000 is with Nirav Modi. So, the only thing India could have done was to not let him go. In bigger countries, it is easier to find him, but these are small islands. We don't know what rules they follow and for them to get a big amount of money from these people is a big thing. So, what comes into play now is how much money he has given to their Government. Nonetheless, India will have to file an extradition and will have to apply pressure from them to get him back.”
Given the situation and the legaities invovled, these masterminds seem to have gotten away scot-free.