Government breaks silence on the curious case of fugitive Mehul Choksi
Mumbai: After Interpol removed the name of fugitive diamantaire Mehul Chinubhai Choksi, who is wanted in India in a Rs 13,000-crore scam in the Punjab National Bank, from its database of Red Notices, the Union Government today said the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was taking steps for the decision of the Commission for Control (CCF) of Interpol’s files to be revised.
“CBI remains in active communication with CCF and other bodies in Interpol in an ongoing process relating to this case,” the Union Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions stated today.
The Ministry claimed the CCF had clarified to the CBI that its decision in no manner has any determination on any guilt or innocence of Mehul Chinubhai Choksi for crimes he remains charged for in India. “CCF has reiterated that it has not established factual certainties and there is no factual finding in their decision that Mehul Chinubhai Choksi will not have a fair trial,” the Ministry stated.
A case was registered against Mehul Choksi and others on February 15, 2018, for defrauding Punjab National Bank. CBI filed two charge sheets in the case against Choksi and others under Sections 120-B r/w 409, 420, 477A, 201 of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 7 & 13(2) r/w 13(1)(c)&(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Subsequently in 2022, CBI registered five more criminal cases against Mehul Choksi and others for defrauding banks and financial institutions.
CBI as National Central Bureau for Interpol issued a diffusion to locate Choksi in February 2018. His movements were tracked by CBI in close direct coordination with foreign law enforcement agencies and he was geo-located to Antigua and Barbuda. An extradition request against Choksi was sent through diplomatic channels to competent authorities of Antigua and Barbuda in August 2018.
In 2018, Choksi approached Commission for Control of Interpol’s Files (CCF) making a request for the non-publication of the Red Notice.
“CCF is a separate body within Interpol that is not under the control of the Interpol Secretariat and is mainly staffed by elected lawyers from different countries,” the CBI said. CCF had studied Choksi’s request and consulted CBI. It then dismissed the representation of Mehul Choksi and consequently, Interpol published a Red Notice against the accused Choksi in December 2018 at the request of the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED). This was subsequent to the geo-location of Choksi by CBI and subsequent to the initiation of the extradition request.
The Ministry though claimed that the purpose of a Red Notice issued by Interpol is to seek the location of a wanted person and to seek their detention, arrest or restriction of movement for the purpose of extradition, surrender or similar action. “It may be noted that Mehul Chinubhai Choksi was already located prior to the publication of the Interpol Red Notice and steps were also initiated for his extradition. Although the primary purpose of the Red Notice was already achieved, the same was retained as a precautionary measure,” the Ministry stated. It explained that as the Extradition proceedings against Choksi were underway in Antigua and Barbuda, to create diversions, Choksi had been approaching various international forums “with concocted and imaginary narratives”.
In 2019, Choksi again approached the Commission for Control of Interpol’s Files (CCF) seeking the removal of the Red Notice from Interpol’s website. CCF had studied his request, consulted CBI and based on inputs, again in 2020, dismissed Mehul Chinubhai Choksi ‘s plea.
“Facing possibilities of imminent extradition from Antigua and Barbuda, Mehul Chinubhai Choksi again with a view to create diversions from the ongoing process and derail the ongoing extradition proceedings, with false claims, concocted dramatic stories and imaginary narratives approached various international forums and also approached CCF in July 2022 to revise its earlier decision of 2020. CCF consulted CBI and ED on the matter. The factual situation on the narrative of Mehul Chinubhai Choksi being wholly unsubstantiated and without an iota of evidence was put forth to the CCF. It was clarified that Mehul Chinubhai Choksi has been making all possible attempts to derail ongoing extradition proceedings in Antigua and Barbuda, to evade the process of law in India. However, a five-member CCF chamber had taken a decision on the deletion of Red Notice. This was communicated in November 2022,” the Ministry claimed.
Thereafter, the Ministry stated, the CBI had taken up with CCF the serious shortcomings, procedural violations, overreach of mandate and mistakes committed by CCF in the manner of reaching this unfounded and perfunctory decision. “CBI continues to exercise available remedial and appellate options within Interpol for rectification of this faulty decision and for restoration of Red Notice. CBI has pointed out that even authorities in Antigua consider that there is sufficient evidence to substantiate that the applicant concealed material facts or made false representation when he applied for his Antigua and Barbuda citizenship, a fact which reflects on previous conduct,” the Ministry stated.
Based on new information and serious errors in the decision, CBI is taking steps for the decision of CCF to be revised.
The Ministry also claimed that an Interpol Red Notice is neither a prerequisite nor a requirement for extradition proceedings. “The Global Operations Centre of CBI continues to closely monitor the movements of persons like Mehul Chinubhai Choksi in close direct coordination with foreign law enforcement agencies and is not reliant only on Interpol channels. Extradition request made by India is under active consideration before authorities in Antigua and Barbuda and remains fully unimpacted by Red notice-related communications with Interpol,” it further claimed.
It stressed that CBI remains committed to the return of fugitives and criminals to India to face the process of criminal justice. “Systematic steps have been initiated in close coordination with foreign law enforcement agencies for geo-locating and return of wanted criminals and economic offenders. In the last 15 months, over 30 wanted criminals have returned to India,” it stated.
– global bihari bureau