Preeti Choksi | Illustration: Ajay Mohanty Fugitive Indian-born jeweller Mehul Choksi
is under arrest in Dominica and will likely be repatriated to India after he went missing from Antigua and Barbuda.
Choksi has said
he was abducted from Antigua on the night of May 23 and forcibly taken on a boat to Dominica. The Indian government is reported to have applied for his extradition to India in a Dominican court, which is scheduled to hear the case on Wednesday.
Police in India have filed charges against Choksi his nephew, Nirav Modi, and others in connection with their suspected involvement in fraudulent transactions that led to losses of about $2 billion for state-owned Punjab National Bank (PNB).
Priti Choksi, the businessman’s wife, spoke exclusively from Antigua to Ashis Ray in London. Here are extracts:
Q: So, your husband apparently goes out on the 23rd (May) evening for dinner
: At 5:11 pm exactly he left. He wanted to go for dinner, and he left; that’s the last time I saw him. At about 8.30 or 9ish I began to get worried. He is normally home by 7 pm. But because he said he was going for dinner, I started trying his numbers. His Antiguan number came as voicemail and his WhatsApp numbers were ringing. I was getting very, very nervous. I was lonely, I don’t know many people here (in Antigua).
He (Mehul Choksi) has a friend who comes as a consultant and works with him. So I called him up at about 10 or a quarter to 10. I asked, ‘are you with him’? My first thought in my mind was maybe he was walking on the beach and maybe he went to the water and maybe you know something happened, an accident. So this person also went out looking. We have a cook who helps out. I called him up and said, ‘by any chance did sir (Mehul Choksi) call you up’? And he said ‘no’.
Then he also came across. I asked, ‘can you just go around to the beaches’? By 10:30, a quarter to 11, he called to say he could find anything. The other person also said the same thing. Then both of them said, ‘let us go to the police station, because this is not normal’. So we went to the police station. There was curfew (because of COVID) from 11 o’clock, 11 pm to 5 am is curfew, we had only one curfew pass. So we went in one car to the police station. These two people (the consultant and the cook) they wrote the complaint.
The police were initially like, ‘you should wait for 24 hours’. But we said there was no way he wouldn’t be home. They did take it seriously, thank God, and filed a complaint. They had cruisers going on the beaches and roads at that time; because of curfew they were making sure the beaches were not packed or people weren’t partying. They immediately contacted the cruisers and said can you have a look. We went and we also thought we’ll look around if we can see him or the car on which he went. This is about 12 o’clock midnight. Police said, ‘we are searching, don’t worry, go home, it’s curfew, you can’t be out’. They went on their patrol and we went home.
Q: Do you have a copy of the complaint you lodged with the police?
: We asked for it, but they said you now have to go through the commissioner and a lawyer to get it. I am very disturbed that he (Mehul Choksi) was taken around 5.30 pm on a boat and no one seems to have seen it. None of the video surveillance cameras at Jolly Harbour (a popular part of Antigua) are working.
Q: What about the car on which your husband drove to go for dinner?
: This is also interesting. Where the car was found at 7.30 the following morning, the police had patrolled the same area at 3 am and it wasn’t there. But it was mysteriously found at 7.30 am.
Q: Did you personally know Barbara Jabarika, who is alleged to have lured your husband into her house, from where he claims he was kidnapped?
: No, I did not.
Q: Have you ever seen her?
No I haven’t seen her, but I knew she had come (to Antigua) in August (2020) and she had walked in to our other house on the island and she befriended the chef there. I knew my husband used to walk with her. On the Friday and Saturday before he was taken, they went to Jolly Beach South for a walk. That’s where my husband would normally go, because there are lots of people there normally and all the houses have cameras.
She (Jabarika) insisted on Sunday they go to the north side of the island. He said he didn’t feel like walking, because he was feeling a little tired. He said, ‘I’ll just go for dinner’. Where she was suggesting it was very secluded.
Q: What can you tell me about Barbara Jabarika?
It’s not the person who is being shown by the TV media. She looks different. You’ve got a sexy femme fatale being shown. That’s not what she looks like. She may have a good body, whatever, whatever, but the thing is it’s not her.
Q: Has she disappeared? Is she no longer in Antigua?
There are rumours surfacing that she may be in Dominica or she may have left.
Q: What about your husband?
My husband hasn’t left this island in three years. His health is not good. He is 63 years old.
Q: And is his passport, I mean his Antiguan passport, is it with you?
Q: So, what happened when he apparently arrived in Dominica (on 25 May)?
He wasn’t allowed to meet a lawyer, get medical attention, nothing. The first time a doctor saw him was when the foreign minister from here (Antigua) arranged it. On Wednesday (26 May) evening a doctor saw him. The lawyers tried to see him on Wednesday afternoon; they were not allowed to. And Thursday (27 May) morning by chance one of the lawyers was able to see him at 7.30 in the morning. My husband was terrified.
He thought he was going to be killed. The narrative being woven is that he absconded, and the first story, the Cuba story, pointed people in that direction. It was very ham-handed. My husband is no longer an Indian citizen as per Section 9 of the Indian constitution. In 2017, he ceased to be an Indian citizen. The safest place on earth for him is Antigua.
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