By Caribbean News Now contributor
ST JOHN’S, Antigua — Fugitive Indian businessman Mehul Choksi has sued the Antigua and Barbuda government in an apparent attempt to pre-empt consideration of an extradition request made by Indian authorities.
Choksi, an economic citizen of Antigua and Barbuda, is wanted by the judicial authorities in India for his alleged involvement in a $1.8 billion fraud against the Punjab National Bank (PNB).
In March 2018, non-bailable arrest warrants were issued by an Indian court against Choksi, and his nephews Nirav Modi and Neeshal Deepak Modi. They are suspected of colluding with two employees of PNB, the country’s second-largest state-owned lender, in the massive fraud. At least six PNB staff members and at least six employees of Choksi and Modi have been arrested so far.
The PNB fraud case relates to fraudulent letters of undertaking worth US$2.1 billion issued by the bank. The fraud was allegedly orchestrated by Choksi and his nephews.
Choksi has claimed that he is innocent and that all allegations against him are false, baseless and politically motivated.
India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) have submitted an extradition request to the Antigua and Barbuda authorities, which is now being reviewed by the ministry of external affairs there.
Indian external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, met the foreign minister of Antigua and Barbuda, E P Chet Greene, in September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York and raised the issue of Choksi’s extradition. Greene reportedly assured Swaraj on behalf of his prime minister that their government will fully cooperate in the matter.
Meanwhile, the minister responsible for citizenship and minister responsible for external affairs of the Antigua and Barbuda government have been named in the lawsuit filed by Choksi. The matter will be heard on Wednesday morning in the High Court before Justice Rita Joseph Olivetti.
According to an official from the ministry of legal affairs, Choksi and his lawyers are simply trying to stall the extradition process.
“They are trying a pre-emptive strike. He is trying to say that the minster responsible for citizenship is barred from taking any action to extradite him and withdraw the passport,” the official told local media.
The government has said it will not be intimidated by any lawsuit by Choksi, who is currently in Antigua and Barbuda.