Gitanjali Gems promoter Mehul C Choksi, hiding in Antigua from Indian authorities, has given up his citizenship and surrendered his passport to the Indian High Commission in that country, according to an NDTV news report. The move is seen as an attempt by him to avoid extradition to India.
Choksi, along with his nephew Nirav Modi is wanted by multiple agencies for fraud in excess of ₹12,000 crore. Nirav Modi is believed to be hiding in London.
The report, quoting unnamed officials, said he had given his new address as Jolly Harbour Marks, Antigua.
Antigua is one among the many islands that are collectively called the West Indies and fall in the Caribbean region. Antigua and Barbuda are two islands that together make a country and have St. John’s as the capital city.
The foreign ministry had said that Choksi could not have dual citizenship. Antigua is hearing India's case for the businessman's extradition. India and Antigua do not have a bilateral extradition pact but the government has been trying to bring back the diamond billionaire from Antigua under a law of the island nation that allows it to send back a fugitive to a designated Commonwealth country.
The scam came to light a year ago when companies belonging to Nirav Modi and Choksi approached Punjab National Bank’s Brady Road branch in Mumbai. They sought a letter of undertaking (LoU) for payments to suppliers. The official, who was new in that post since the earlier one, Gokulnath Shetty, who had allegedly connived with the two, had retired, asked for 100% cash guarantee before any such letter could be issued.
Executives representing the two accused told the new PNB staff that no such guarantee was sought in the past. The Brady Road branch has since been shut.
The official, new to the post, checked the records, which did not show any LoU to Modi or Choksi’s company, and this led to suspicion. Apparently, Shetty had been bypassing PNB’s core banking system and thus managing to issuing LoUs fraudulently for seven years without any cash guarantee.
An LoU is a guarantee which is given by an issuing bank to Indian banks having branches abroad to grant short-term credit to the applicant. In case of default, the bank issuing the LoU has to pay the liability to the bank giving the credit along with accruing interest.