NEW DELHI: Indian investigating agencies hinted at a “big development" this week, with top officials claiming that the process is underway for one or more fugitives being brought back to the country.
While they declined to formally disclose names, the buzz in official circles is that one of the fugitives could be jeweller Mehul Choksi, who has taken refuge in the Caribbean island of Antigua.
A meeting of the Joint Intelligence Committee was convened over the weekend to review the preparations, people familiar with the developments said on condition of anonymity. One of the officials disclosed an announcement was likely in the next few days.
If Choksi is brought back to India, it will mark a victory not just for India’s probe agencies—the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED)—but also for the Narendra Modi government, which is months away from facing Lok Sabha polls.
“Something big with regard to a bank scam accused was underway which will be made public by Monday or Tuesday," senior government officials said on condition of anonymity.
The Union ministry of external affairs did not comment on the matter. Emails sent to the Indian Mission in Guyana did not elicit a response.
In January last year, CBI and ED booked Gitanjali Gems promoter Mehul Choksi and jeweller Nirav Modi for defrauding a consortium of lenders led by Punjab National Bank of ₹14,356 crore. Choksi, who is the prime accused in the scam, had taken oath of citizenship in Antigua in January.
In August, India said it was working out an arrangement with Antigua for extraditing Choksi, despite the two nations not having a formal extradition treaty. The mechanism is based on both India and Antigua being Commonwealth nations and recognizing each other as “designated Commonwealth countries" under their respective extradition Acts.
A government of India gazette notification dated 3 August stated that “the central government hereby directs the provisions of the Extradition Act of 1962 shall apply in the case of Antigua with effect from the date of notifying India as a designated Commonwealth country."
In the same month, India also handed over an extradition request to the Antiguan government to bring back Choksi.
Meanwhile, a person familiar with the development stated that no chartered flight had, as yet, been booked with Air India, as of Sunday. Mehul Choksi’s lawyer Sanjay Abbot said that he had no information on a possible extradition.
According to the citizenship rules of Antigua and Barbuda, 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 to be held for a minimum period of five years, or an investment of a minimum of $1.5 million directly into an eligible business as a sole investor.
After the Interpol issued a red corner notice against him in December, Choksi, last week, surrendered his Indian citizenship and passport to avoid extradition. Choksi deposited his Indian passport along with the cancelled pages at the Indian High Commission in Antigua. A senior government official, one of the people cited above, said “Choksi surrendering his passport has no bearing on the extradition process. The very premise of seeking citizenship in Antigua or anywhere else in the world is that the person is ineligible if he is part of any criminal investigation in his home country. Antigua had been alerted about that. The law will run its course in this matter."
Gireesh Chandra Prasad contributed to this story.