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(ANTIGUA OBSERVER) – Mehul Choksi, the Indian national who is wanted in that country for alleged fraud and who is at the centre of another citizenship scandal in Antigua and Barbuda has spoken out through his local attorney Dr. David Dorsett, denying the allegations against him in India.
On Thursday, Dr. Dorsett, by way of a signed press release received by OBSERVER media in the evening, revealed that his client, Choksi had authorised him to release a statement consisting Choksi’s own words.
Choksi is then quoted as saying that he “categorically” denies the accusations against him – that he and his nephew Nirav Modi, both diamond tycoons, colluded with two employees of India’s Punjab National Bank in a fraud scheme worth over US $1.8 billion.
“There is no truth in those allegations,” Choksi declared as quoted in the release. He added that on the advice of his lawyers, including Dr. Dorsett he would say nothing more about the fraud allegations.
The Indian national is further quoted as saying that his motivation for becoming a citizen was to “expand my business interest in the Caribbean” and “to obtain visa free travel access to 130 or so countries” – something that Antigua and Barbuda’s passport allows.
On Thursday, E.P. Chet Greene, minister of foreign affairs and immigration said that he was not aware that the government of Antigua and Barbuda had received any requests from any Indian government or law enforcement body for cooperation or extradition regarding Choksi.
“However, if a request is received we will honour any legitimate request made of us notwithstanding that we do not have any extradition agreements with India. That is the extent of our commitment to preserving the integrity of our programme,” Greene said.
He was speaking at Thursday morning’s post-Cabinet press conference. By “programme” Greene was referring to the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) the means through which Choksi obtained Antigua and Barbuda citizenship in November of 2017 after what the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) called “thorough vetting.”
Members of opposition parties have questioned how thorough the vetting process could have been in 2017 if Choksi and his company, the Gitanjali Group were not long after, named as suspects in a massive fraud investigation.
On Wednesday evening, as part of its response to a second round of questions from OBSERVER media, the CIU stated that among other groups, the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) was engaged to “conduct investigations” into Choksi’s background in 2017.
However, OBSERVER media has come across one July 25, 2018 article online at the Times of India under the headline ‘Mehul Choksi had laid groundwork for his escape to Antigua much before PNB scam surfaced’ in which Abhishek Dayal, reportedly a spokesman for India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), is quoted as saying that, “Interpol has not sought any information related to Choksi from the CBI in the last three four years.”
India’s CBI is the agency leading the investigation into the Punjab National Bank fraud case in which Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi – the alleged orchestrater of the fraud – are alleged to have taken part.
The CIU said it could not comment on the “accuracy” of the Times of India article but noted that the criminal allegations against Choksi only surfaced in India in February 2018, months after he was granted citizenship in November 2017.
The minister of foreign affairs and immigration on Thursday said that the CIU “at all times acted properly and with the nation’s interest its foremost thought.” He said the government was “fully satisfied” that at “every step of the process” nothing was missed by the CIU.
The CIU in its Wednesday evening reply to OBSERVER media stated that in addition to INTERPOL, its diligence process also involved queries to the Thomson Reuters World-Check database, cross-checks of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Most Wanted List and other such law enforcement lists, and queries to the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS).
“The results of these detailed inquiries as well as the results of investigations conducted by reputable contracted third party due diligence providers were factored into the vetting,” the CIU reported.
The statement further read, “The CIU has not identified any failure in the due diligence process.”