Fugitive diamond jeweller Mehul Choksi, allegedly involved in an over $2 billion scam in Punjab National
Bank, claims he had taken Antigua citizenship last year to expand his business as the passport of the Caribbean nation allowed visa-free travel to 132 countries, local media in Antigua has reported.
In a statement issued by his attorney, David Dorsett, on the diamantaire's behalf, Choksi said there was no truth in the allegations levelled by the Indian government, the Daily Observer, a newspaper in Antigua, reported.
Choksi, who was allegedly the partner-in-crime of his nephew Nirav Modi in the banking fraud, refused to say anything further on the issue, on the advice of his lawyers.
"I can however state that I lawfully applied to be registered as a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda under the Citizenship by Investment Program. During the course of my application I did all that was lawfully required of me to do. My application for citizenship was in due course approved," the statement published in the newspaper said.
Choksi had taken the citizenship of Antigua in November 2017, and the oath of allegiance on January 15 this year, according to a local newspaper Antigua Observer.
"My application was motivated by my desire to expand my business interest in the Caribbean and to obtain visa-free travel access to 130 or so countries," the statement said, adding that he was in the United States in January 2018 for medical treatment.
"Having received treatment I am still in a state convalescence. That being the case I have decided to reside in Antigua and Barbuda," it read.
The development came after media reports that Choksi had recently left the Caribbean country. “We are trying to ascertain where he is. But we are certain he is not in Antigua anymore,” an Indian Express report quoted an Antigua official as saying.
After it emerged that Choksi had moved to the Caribbean country in July and also taken a local passport, the CBI
wrote to Antiguan authorities, seeking the whereabouts of the fugitive diamantaire.
The CBI, in its communication sent to Antiguan authority, cited diffusion notice issued by the Interpol
against the fugitive businessman and sought details of his movement and his present location.
The Antigua Government indicated that it may consider "a legitimate request" from India to send back Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi.
Nirav Modi and Choksi are being investigated by the ED and the CBI
after it was detected that they allegedly cheated the Punjab National
Bank with the purported help of a few of the lender's employees.
The scam, which reportedly began in 2011, was detected in January this year, after which PNB officials reported it to the probe agencies.
Choksi and Nirav Modi fled India in January this year nearly a fortnight before the scam was detected.
Choksi's actions show that he had planned his escape and subsequent life in advance knowing that the scam would blow up after the retirement of PNB employee Gokulnath Shetty, who was allegedly helping him with renewal of letters of undertaking, sources had said.