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PNB scam: Mehul Choksi’s location revealed

Indian men walk past signage for the state-owned Punjab National Bank (PNB) in Mumbai on February 14, 2018. (INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

Businessman Mehul Choksi, who is wanted for a Rs. 13,500 crore bank fraud along with his nephew Nirav Modi, has been traced to Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean Islands.

 “The ministry of external affairs (MEA) had been pursuing the matter with the United States government and the latter had informed that Choksi was not in the US,” a person familiar with developments told Mint. “After he was traced to Antigua, the MEA had sent the letter to both the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Monday about Choksi’s whereabouts.”

Choksi has secured citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda, but it is not immediately known how he managed to do so as a person is considered ineligible for citizenship if he ‘is the subject of a criminal investigation’ or ‘is a potential national security risk to Antigua and Barbuda or to any other country’ or ‘is involved in any activity likely to cause disrepute to Antigua and Barbuda,’ reported Mint.

This development comes just a day after Choksi moved court seeking cancellation of the non-bailable warrant against him.

Choksi, through his lawyer, had also said he was unable to return to India as he feared for his life due to the recent trend of mob lynchings in the country.

“The fact that there are various reported cases of mob lynching in India and the recent trend of mob lynching is growing, it has been stated in the application that the existing 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 have grievances and anger against Mehul Choksi,” said Mehul’s lawyer Sanjay Abbot.

Choksi, who owns Gitanjali Gems, has not paid his employees since the scandal erupted. In February, he penned a letter to his staff members saying he won’t be able to clear his dues as his accounts were frozen.

Choksi said: “I am constrained to write the present email to you all concerned, as a situation of fear and injustice has been created against me and our organization. But, now, with false allegations levelled against me of defrauding the PNB Bank and [the ensuing] media frenzy, the situation has gone grave, which is turning graver by day.

“It is very tough for me, as of now, to be clearing your dues or to pay the future salaries, in view of the seizing of various bank accounts and other properties by the government agencies/investigating agencies,” Choksi added.

Choksi also blamed India’s investigating agencies of creating “a havoc, hell bent upon stopping the operations.”

The businessman added that he was committed to clearing the past dues of his employees once things return to normalcy.