The Congress on Friday alleged that “shocking details” emerging from Antigua have “exposed the complicity and connivance” of the Modi government in the escape of fugitive billionaire Mehul Choksi to the Caribbean country.
Earlier, Antigua government’s had reportedly stated that the fugitive jeweller was given citizenship of the Carribean country after “stringent background checks” and clearance certificate by Mumbai Police and the External Affairs Ministry (EAM).
The Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) of Antigua and Barbuda, however, said while conducting background checks on Choksi, it found that the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) had initiated investigations against him twice. But the cases, according to India's market regulator, had been closed.
In a detailed statement, the citizenship authority said the businessman's application was received in May 2017 with necessary documentary requirements, including a police clearance certificate.
"The said police clearance certificate from the government of India, Ministry of External Affairs Regional Passport Office, Mumbai, certified that there was no adverse information against Mehul Chinubbhai Choksi which would render him ineligible for grant of travel facilities including visa for Antigua and Barbuda."
The CIU statement, shared by Antigua Observer newspaper on its website, said these facts were being made public “in an effort to provide clarity and address misinformation that has been circulating in the public domain”. It said as Choksi's application was subjected to “stringent background checks” as is done with all applications submitted to the unit.
The Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) of Antigua and Barbuda, however, said while conducting background checks on Choksi, it found that the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) had initiated investigations against him twice. But the cases, according to India’s market regulator, had been closed
These checks include open source Internet checks, Thompson Reuters World-Check, queries of various sanctions lists, engagement with regional and international intelligence agencies like Interpol as well as contracted third party due diligence providers.
"It was only after the results of all of these checks had been received and assessed that a final decision was taken on the application. In no instance was any derogatory information disclosed on the applicant."
The statement said the CIU received documentation of two instances in which the SEBI, in 2014 and 2017, opened investigations on a corporate entity owned by Choksi.
"We requested updates on the status of the investigations and received documentary confirmation, issued by the SEBI, stating that in one case, the matter had been satisfactorily closed, and indicating in the other that there is not sufficient evidence to pursue the matter further.
"None of these matters is the subject of the current warrants issued by the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) in connection with the Punjab National Bank. It was also observed that (a) 2016 non-bailable warrant (against Choksi) was discontinued in October 2016."
The CIU also dismissed a reported claim by the CBI that indicated that the Interpol had made no direct contact with the Antigua authorities on Choksi.
The Congress leader sought to know why the Prime Minister’s Office did not act or direct the External Affairs Ministry, Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate, Securities and Exchange Board of India, Serious Fraud Investigation Office to take action on two complaints dated May 7 and May 26, 2015
Reacting to media reports, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala lambasted Modi government: “Loot and make them scoot is the prime policy of the the Modi government. The shocking details reveal how the Modi government enacted this mega scam”.
Surjewala alleged, on Friday, that the Ministry of External Affairs issued a clean chit to Choksi when there were complaints pending against him.
The Congress leader sought to know why the Prime Minister's Office did not act or direct the External Affairs Ministry, Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate, Securities and Exchange Board of India, Serious Fraud Investigation Office to take action on two complaints dated May 7 and May 26, 2015.
Alleging that the agencies under the Modi government enabled the "great escape" of Choksi, the Congress leader said: “Complicity and connivance of the Modi government in the escape of ₹23,484-cr PNB scam accused Mehul Choksi, better described by PM Narendra Modi's ‘hamare Mehul bhai’, has been exposed.”
"Shocking details from Antigua's Citizenship By Investment Unit have lifted the cover from the sins committed by every organ of the Modi government PMO, MEA, CBI, SEBI etc that facilitated and gave a 'clean chit' to the fraudster," he alleged.
Surjewala said the development "also conclusively exposes the barrage of lies that ministers in the Modi government were trying to plant in the mainstream media".
The Congress leader said Choksi left India on January 4, 2018, and was already a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda since November 2017 “which gives him a visa-free access to travel around 132 nations”.
With PTI and IANS inputs