Fugitive diamond trader and PNB fraud accused Mehul Choksi has reportedly said that he is being considered a 'soft target' due to inability of Indian government to extradite other wanted persons from countries such as the UK. Embattled liquor tycoon Vijay Mallya, former IPL czar Lalit Modi and Choksi's nephew, Nirav Modi, also an accused in the Rs 13,500 crore scam, are hiding in the UK.
In an interview to Hindustan Times, Choksi, who obtained the citizenship of Antigua & Barbuda in November 2017, claimed that he is a victim of political persecution ahead of elections in 2019. "There were complacencies in the bank operations, systems, procedures guidelines etc as many bank officials have been charged for not doing their job according to the banking norms and policies. The bank is squarely liable for the lapses however I have been made a scapegoat," the absconding diamantaire said.
When asked if he is still interested in settling his dues with PNB, Choksi said, "My brand value has come to zero. Everything I have has been seized. They can sell off my assets and pay whoever has to be paid. They should take it from ED, I am in no position to return any money."
The diamond merchant said he has filed a petition in Antigua court challenging the section 9(4)of the Antigua Extradition Act, 1993. This section authorises the minister of external affairs to forward the request of any Commonwealth country for extradition to court, which may result even in provisional arrest. Both India and Antigua are part of Commonwealth group.
Choksi said he would be seeking same protection as sought by Vijay Mallya as Antiguan laws follow English common law principles where in citizen human rights are treated at very high pedestal. "I am not living a luxury life in Antigua," he claimed.
Choksi reiterated that his life may be in danger if he comes back to India. "There have been various reported cases of mob lynching, and in one of the cases an accused was lynched while being inside a jail...There are people who have grievances and anger against me -- the employees whose salaries and dues have not been paid because of freezing of the accounts, the families of detained employees who have been arrested without any rhyme or reason, the landlords whose premises the companies had taken on rent who have not been paid their dues, the customers whose jewellery in showroom have been taken away by the Enforcement Directorate, and the creditors of supplies and services who have not been paid their dues," Choksi told the daily.
Citing danger from hardened criminals inside jail as one of the reasons for not coming back to India, Choksi said, "There is also high risk of extortion by jail staff and the other inmates. My assets have been seized making me monetarily handicapped."
"In absence of monetary resources, how am I expected to defend myself? How will I afford a lawyer? Does the government expect that I should defend myself by my own in the court? The server of my company with all the data and communication has been seized too. How will I retrieve documents to defend myself," asked Choksi.