NEW DELHI: Mehul Choksi, wanted by India by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the Rs 14,000 crore Punjab National Bank scam, has surrendered his Indian passport to the Indian High Commission in Guyana, official sources said Monday.
Choksi, who took citizenship of Antigua last year, is an uncle of fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi, also wanted for the same scam.
India formally requested Antigua to extradite Choksi last year and even sent a team there to negotiate, but it does not have an extradition pact with the Caribbean nation.
Sources said the return of the passport was “just a formality” since whenever an Indian citizen acquires foreign nationality, he or she automatically loses Indian citizenship and is expected to surrender his passport.
However, India would continue to pursue Choksi’s return with the Government of Antigua through diplomatic and legal channels.
The Congress was quick to attack the government over the issue.
“Once again Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s failed promises have come to light. A year has passed since the PNB scam broke out and now Mehul ‘Bhai’ Choksi has surrendered his Indian passport - making it doubly hard for extradition to take place,” the party said on its official Twitter feed.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) attached the Thailand factory of Choksi's Gitanjali group company, worth over Rs 13 crore, two weeks back. It also issued a provisional order for attachment, under the PMLA, of the factory premise owned by Abbeycrest (Thailand) Limited which is a "group company" of the Gitanjali group of companies.
Officials said ED investigators would soon get issued Letters Rogatories (judicial requests) for a legal formalisation of the attachment of the foreign-based asset.
Global investigating body Interpol issued a Red Corner Notice against the absconding billionaire in December 2018, as per CBI's request.
A Red Corner Notice is a kind of international arrest warrant for fugitives where Interpol requests its member countries to arrest or detain them.
Choksi had alleged that the cases against him were result of political conspiracy.
He also raised questions on issues such as jail conditions in India, his personal safety and health.
However, the diamond trader's lawyers said that he might return to India to record his statement if his health permits him. The counsel also informed a PMLA court in Mumbai that 59-year-old had left India in January, 2018 for medical treatment in the US and now, he was not in a position to record his statement.
"There is one option and according to that, investigation can be done through video conferencing. Officer from India can go to Antigua in order to investigate him. The third option is that if his condition gets better in three months and if his doctors allow him to, then he will come back to India to join investigation," lawyer Sanjay Abbot said while appearing before the court.
The PNB was allegedly cheated by fraudulently issued of Letters of Undertakings (LoUs) and Foreign Letters of Credit (FLCs).
The CBI has charge-sheeted both Nirav Modi and Choksi separately in the scam.
The CBI had alleged Choksi swindled Rs 7,080.86 crore, while Nirav Modi allegedly siphoned Rs 6,000 crore, thereby making it the country's biggest banking scam at over Rs 13,000 crore.
An additional loan default of over Rs 5,000 crore to Choksi's companies is also a matter of CBI probe.
It is alleged that Nirav Modi and Choksi through their companies availed credit from overseas branches of Indian banks using guarantees given through fraudulent LoUs and credit letters which were not repaid bringing the liability on the state-run bank.
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 instructions for transferring funds were allegedly issued by a bank employee, Gokulnath Shetty, using an international messaging system for banking called SWIFT platform and without making their subsequent entries in the PNB's internal banking software, thus bypassing bank's scrutiny.
(With Inputs from Agencies)