New Delhi: Gitanjali Gems promoter Mehul Choksi took his oath of Antiguan citizenship on 15 January—a full two weeks before the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed its first case in the ₹ 14,356 crore PNB fraud—indicating he may have been forewarned about the agency’s moves. A letter written by the citizenship by investment unit (CIU) of Antigua to a local newspaper, examined by Mint, says that “After extensive vetting Mehul Choksi was granted citizenship in November 2017," and that he took the oath of citizenship on 15 January this year after “robust due diligence international investigation."
The CBI, however, said that no background check by Interpol was requested on Choksi.
At the same time, with Interpol yet to issue a red corner notice (RCN) against him, Choksi can now travel to 132 countries on his Antiguan passport, including the European Union and the UK.
However, once Interpol issues the RCN, Choksi will be “technically confined to the Caribbean islands only. When he crosses a border, the authorities are supposed to inform CBI about his presence," a senior CBI official said on condition of anonymity.
In the first week of July, Interpol had sought responses to queries from CBI with regard to Choksi’s pending RCN.
“They (Interpol) had asked CBI for clarifications on the validity of warrants, additional facts if any, whether CBI wants the RCN as restricted or open and the specific role of the individual (Choksi) in the alleged crime, which was provided on the basis of the charge sheet," said a senior CBI official requesting anonymity.
CBI had also written to Antigua’s Interpol branch seeking details on the matter on Tuesday.
“Information has been requested on when Choksi reached Antigua. CBI had issued a diffusion notice against Choksi and on that basis, Antigua should have responded in deference to that," the official added.
A day after Mehul Choksi was traced to Caribbean island-nation of Antigua and Barbuda, other persons familiar with the development also stated that Indian agencies were informed of his whereabouts at the last minute.
“The ministry of external affairs (MEA) had been pursuing the matter with the US government and the latter had informed that Choksi was not in the US. After he was traced to Antigua, the MEA had sent the letter to both CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) only on Monday about Choksi’s whereabouts," said a person familiar with the developments.
MEA did not immediately respond to Mint’s calls and messages, seeking a response.
Choksi’s success in obtaining Antiguan citizenship likely thwarts the chances of Indian investigating agencies closing in on him.
According to the citizenship rules of Antingua and Barbuda, under the Citizenship by Investment Act of 2013, Choksi was required to make a contribution to the National Development Fund (NDF) of a minimum non-refundable amount of $200,000, or an investment of at least $400,000 into one of the approved real estate projects and to be held for a minimum period of five years and/or make an investment of a minimum of $1,500,000 directly into an eligible business as a sole investor.
However, the rules also specify that 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."
“It is not known yet how he has managed to secure the citizenship and we are working around the case now," the person quoted above added.
The developments unfolded on Tuesday, just a day after Choksi moved the PMLA court in Mumbai to cancel the non-bailable warrant against him.
Choksi’s lawyer, Sanjay Abbot, declined to comment on the matter.