New Delhi: Bank fraud accused diamond businessman and proclaimed fugitive Mehul Choksi has claimed neither his company nor his associates had done anything wrong, that all charges framed against him are “fake” and “bogus”, and that he has “become a political football”.
“Since I left India, I have been in very bad health and advised very strongly not to travel. I have always said I’m eager to clear my name, because I am a very reputed person in India so far,” Choksi told Business Standard in an exclusive interview, conducted over Zoom in early December.
The Indian-born diamantaire, owner of the retail jewellery company ‘Gitanjali Gems’, has allegedly defrauded Punjab National Bank (PNB) of Rs 13,500 crore along with his nephew Nirav Modi and PNB employees. An arrest warrant was issued against him by a PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) court in March 2018, and he is accused of criminal conspiracy, breach of trust cheating, money laundering and other charges.
A citizen of Antigua and Barbuda, Choksi had departed India for the Caribbean island nation in January that year, prior to news of the scam breaking.
In May 2021, Choksi had been arrested by authorities in the nearby nation of Dominica, after he was reported “missing” and an Interpol Yellow Notice had been issued by Antigua and Barbuda. Currently, a court in Dominica has issued a stay order on his repatriation from the country.
In the interview with Business Standard, Choksi has now alleged that he was the victim of kidnapping in a “joint operation” conducted by the two Caribbean countries, “Indian agencies” and “a British team of mercenaries”.
‘Human traffickers tracking me’
“Human traffickers were involved. There were yacht owners. There were five or six British people involved. They have been after me, tracking me for nearly eight months on this island. Since last August, they were tracking all my movements. They were staying in a bunch, exactly opposite my house,” Choksi claimed.
The businessman also labelled the Enforcement Directorate’s declaration of him as a “fugitive economic offender” as “fake”.
“I am not a political person, but it has gone in a very wrong way. I’ve become a political football. As a big businessman, I knew lots of politicians… And there are so many things appearing at the moment. These started immediately after they put the charges in the FIR. They were completely fabricated and wrong,” Choksi added.
When asked further about the PNB fraud case, Choksi provided details on his company’s arrangement with the PNB, stating that the bank had “not given correct information” to its head office.
“I was enjoying Rs 7,000 crore of approved limit by a consortium of bankers. On top of that, there was an ad hoc need-based transaction limit in the form of LCs/LoUs (Letter of Credit/Letter of Undertaking). All jewellers bank using the instrument of LCs or LoUs. I have been doing this since 1990,” he claimed.
Gitanjali’s closure ‘India’s loss’
The businessman also hit out at the manner in which the allegations linked him and his company to Nirav Modi, and complained that the situation had been politicised.
“I even called up PNB, and told them why you have put my name in this (case). I am not a partner in this and I have left his company since 2000… Despite that, there were lots of raids on my companies. They even seized my server and lots of inventory from my company in the first FIR of Nirav Modi (sic),” Choksi said, referring to a January 2018 FIR.
Choksi insisted he wanted to return to India, but only when his health improved.
“My health has deteriorated. I can’t even see properly. I have back pain. This all added up to my normal disease. There is a problem with my brain. They’ve found some hematoma here. That is why I have been sent to Antigua to cure it,” he said.
Finally, Choksi called for a special task force to look into the accusations against him, referring to Gitanjali’s closure as India’s “loss”.
“They must look into the banks and see how many such cases have been and what kind of complacencies have been going on at banks in the country,” he said.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)