Fugitive businessman Mehul Choksi, wanted in a Rs 13,500 crore loan fraud in Punjab National Bank, has gone missing in Antigua and Barbuda where he has been staying since January 2018, his lawyer and the Royal Police Force of the Caribbean island nation said.
The country’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne has said he has “no reliable information till date” that Mr Choksi has fled the country and it was very likely that he was still in Antigua and Barbuda.
In a statement to the Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda, Mr Browne said authorities were “collaborating” with the Indian government, neighbouring countries and international police organisation to try and locate Mr Choksi.
“Someone from his household indicated that he is missing. Since then, Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda put out a statement to that effect. That statement will be shared with the Interpol,” he said.
Mr Browne said Mr Choksi has two cases against him in courts of Antigua and Barbuda — extradition and revocation of citizenship — for which he has brought in a celebrated lawyer from the United Kingdom to represent him and this showed his willingness to stay and contest the cases.
“I do not believe that law enforcement or anyone would have contemplated Mr Choksi would have fled the country. In any case we do not have any reliable information to date that he has fled the country. It is likely he may be still here and law enforcement is utilising all the efforts including all intelligence to try and locate Mr Choksi,” he said.
Prime Minister Browne also downplayed “speculation” that Mr Choksi had fled to Cuba as no aircraft with a flight plan having him as passenger has left the country, leaving the only option of travelling by boat. It is “unlikely” that he had reached Cuba in 36 hours by boat, he said.
“Law enforcement continuing to collaborate with regional and international police so he is located just in case he has absconded. I maintain Mr Speaker that we do not have any reliable information to date that he has absconded,” Mr Browne said in his statement to the Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda.
The businessman was last seen on Sunday in his car. Police recovered the vehicle after a search but Mr Choksi could not be found, a statement from the Antiguan police said on Monday night India time.
His lawyer Vijay Aggarwal confirmed that Mr Choksi has been missing since Sunday.
“Police in Antigua have started search operations for him. The family is worried about his safety. We are keeping a watch on developments,” Mr Aggarwal told PTI on Tuesday.
The Central Bureau of Investigation, which is probing allegations against Mr Choksi, is verifying the reports through “formal and informal” channels, including the Interpol that has issued a red corner notice against him on a request from the agency, officials here said.
The statement from the Antiguan police, which launched a missing person operation on Sunday, carries a photograph of the businessman and seeks information from the public.
“The police are investigating a Missing Person Report made of 62-year-old Mehul Choksi of Jolly Harbour. Mehul was reported missing on Sunday 23rd May 2021 at the Johnson Point Police Station,” it said.
Antiguanewsroom, a local media outlet, quoted Commissioner of Police Atlee Rodney as saying that the police is “following up on the whereabouts of Indian businessman Mehul Choksi”, who is “rumoured” to be missing.
The media reports said Mr Choksi, who had taken citizenship of the island nation, was seen driving in the southern area of the island on Sunday.
Mr Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi are wanted for allegedly siphoning Rs 13,500 crore of public money from the state-run Punjab National Bank (PNB) using letters of undertaking.
While Mr Modi is in a London prison after being repeatedly denied bail and is contesting his extradition to India, Mr Choksi took citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda in 2017 using the Citizenship by Investment programme before fleeing India in the first week of January 2018. The scam came to light subsequently.
Both are facing a CBI probe.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)