A few days ago, Diamond Merchant Mehul Choksi proudly declared that he had got the citizenship of Caribbean Island Antigua and Barbuda. The fugitive diamond businessman is accused of perpetrating the biggest banking fraud in India. After the news of his current whereabouts became public, the Indian authorities claimed to have initiated talks with Antigua for his extradition. But the Antiguan agency Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) has made it clear that Choksi was given citizenship after following the due process, which includes positive reports by India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Security and Exchange Board of India (Sebi).
The CIU has said the current probe against Choksi pertains to the January-2018 notice against the businessman, and that these matters (PNB fraud) emerged years after he was granted citizenship of Antigua.
A press release issued by the CIU said Mehul Choksi's application in May 2017, with the necessary documentary requirements, including a police clearance certificate, was required under section 5 (2)(b) of the Antigua and Barbuda Citizenship by Investment Act, 2013. "The police clearance certificate from the MEA's regional passport office, Mumbai, certified that there was no adverse information against Mehul Choksi that would render him ineligible for grant of travel facilities, including a visa for Antigua and Barbuda," it said.
Mehul Choksi was granted Antiguan citizenship in November 2017. Antigua is one of the two major Caribbean islands that make up the sovereign nation of Antigua and Barbuda.
The CIU release claimed Choksi's application was accepted after "stringent background checks", which included open-source internet checks, Thompson Reuters World-Check, queries of various sanctions lists, engagement with regional and international intelligence agencies, including Interpol. "In no instance was any derogatory information disclosed about the applicant," it said.
The CIU said SEBI had also provided a positive report about Mehul Choksi on two occasions, and none of these matters is the subject of the current warrants issued by the CBI in connection with the Punjab National Bank fraud.
The Sebi had opened investigations into a corporate entity owned by Mehul Choksi in 2014 and 2017. "We requested updates on the status of the investigations and received documentary confirmation, issued by the Sebi stating that in one case, the matter had been satisfactorily closed, and indicating in the other that there is not sufficient evidence to pursue the matter further," said CIU.
Although the CBI last week said Interpol never sought a background check on Mehul Choksi in past four years, the CIU clarified that its probe includes Interpol, which facilitates international police cooperation. "Were there an active warrant for Choksi at the time his citizenship application was being processed, this information should have already been made available to the Interpol, a notification of which would have been readily accessible by the CIU and its due diligence partners," said the CIU.
It said if Mehul Choksi had a shady record, it should have been in the criminal database of India, and therefore declared in the police clearance certificate issued by the MEA. Mehul Choksi, as well as his partner Nirav Modi, fled the country in the first week of January, just two weeks before PNB first reported about the biggest banking scam.
(Edited by Manoj Sharma)