Fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi, implicated in the Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam, has gone missing in Antigua, according to news reports on Tuesday. Antigua Newsroom, a local media outlet, quoted police chief Atlee Rodney to claim that the police are “following up on the whereabouts of Indian businessman Mehul Choksi”, who is “rumoured” to be missing. Reports claim that he was seen driving in the southern area of the island on Sunday.
Talking to Hindustan Times, Choksi’s lawyer Aggarwal confirmed that he had gone missing. “His family members are worried and anxious and had called me to discuss. Antigua police are investigating. Family is in the dark and worried about his safety,” he said.
Choksi, 60, had taken nationality of Antigua and Barbuda in November 2017 using Citizenship by Investment Program (CIP) of the twin-island nation. He fled India in the first week of January last year, days before a scam worth Rs 13,400 crore was detected and reported by state-run PNB. Choksi, promoter of Gitanjali Gems, and his nephew Nirav Modi, who is currently in a London jail, are wanted by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the CBI for allegedly masterminding the biggest banking fraud of India. However, Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne had stated that Choksi “was a crook” and that his citizenship would be revoked. This opens the door for a possible extradition.
Choksi allegedly swindled Rs 7,080.86 crore, while the remaining was siphoned off by his nephew Modi. They managed to orchestrate the scam by availing credit from overseas branches of Indian banks on the basis of fraudulent guarantees in the form of Letter of Undertakings and letters of credit issued by PNB Brady House branch in Mumbai.
The LoU instructions were issued by colluding with bank employees using an international banking messaging system but these were not entered in the internal PNB system making them impossible to be monitored. An LoU is a guarantee given by an issuing bank to Indian banks having branches abroad to grant short-term credit to the applicant. The non-repayment of these credits brought the liability on the PNB.