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Dominican magistrate denies bail to Mehul Choksi: Local media

Source: PTI
Last updated on: June 03, 2021 11:46 IST
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A Dominica magistrate has denied bail to absconding diamond tycoon Mehul Choksi, who was arrested on May 23 for alleged illegal entry to the Caribbean island country, the local media reported.

Mehul Choksi

Photograph: PTI Photo

Choksi, wanted in India in connection with a Rs 13,500-crore fraud in the Punjab National Bank (PNB), pleaded before the magistrate that he was abducted and forcibly brought to Dominica from neighbouring Antigua and Barbuda, about 100 nautical miles away, Dominica News Online reported.

 

The 62-year-old wheelchair-bound diamantaire, who has a pending Interpol Red Corner Notice (RCN) against him, arrived before the presiding Roseau magistrate court in a black pair of shorts and a blue T-shirt from the Dominica China Friendship Hospital, where he is undergoing treatment.

The Dominica high court, which was hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by Choksi, had ordered him to be presented before the magistrate to face charges of illegal entry.

A habeas corpus petition is filed for producing before a court a person who is under arrest or in unlawful detention.

"Our stand that Mehul Choksi is in illegal detention as he was required to be produced within 72 hours before the magistrate and was not so produced has been vindicated. In order to remedy this, he has been asked to be produced before the magistrate. This establishes the illegal detention of Choksi as pleaded by the defence. Contrary to numerous media reports, there was no discussion regarding the Government of India," Choksi's lawyer Vijay Aggarwal said in New Delhi.

During the hearing before magistrate Candia Carrette-George, the Dominica prosecution cited two main arguments to keep Choksi under detention – the extradition request against him and the ongoing extradition proceedings in the courts of Antigua and Barbuda, where he is staying since 2018 after leaving India.

Prosecutor Sherma Dalrymple told the court that Choksi is a "flight risk" and does not have any ties in Dominica that prevent him from fleeing the country if bail is granted.

Defence counsel Wayne Norde said Choksi was not a flight risk considering his health and the pending extradition proceedings in Antigua and Barbuda were also a reason for him not to leave Dominica.

Offering to pay a bail amount of ECD 10,000, double the fine amount for illegal entry to Dominica, Norde said Choksi did not have any criminal case in Antigua and Barbuda and the proceedings against him were civil in nature, which shows that he is a a man of good character.

The lawyer said the new bail act says a defendant is entitled to the relief as a right unless the offence is of a serious nature.

In her order, the magistrate said considering the "severity" of the matter, she is not convinced that Choksi will stay in the country to face legal proceedings and adjourned the matter till June 14. 

The diamantaire, who mysteriously went missing on May 23 from Antigua and Barbuda where he had been staying since 2018 as a citizen, was detained in neighbouring Dominica for illegal entry after a possible romantic escapade with his rumoured girlfriend.

Choksi's wife Preeti told reporters that the woman in question was not his girlfriend.

She said the woman was known to him and used to go on walks with him.

She said Choksi was abducted by people looking like Indian and Antiguan when he had gone to meet the woman.

During Wednesday's trial, Choksi was present through video-conferencing from Dominica China Friendship Hospital while his lawyers were present physically in court.

The judge asked authorities to share court documents with Choksi who is admitted at the hospital.

His lawyers said that he does not feel safe in police custody and that he should be sent back to Antigua and Barbuda, local media reported.

He also said he would pay for his security and raised the issue of injury marks found on his body and him being hospitalised.

In case of an adverse order, Choksi has the option of appealing in higher courts.

Last week, the Government of Dominica had issued a press statement that it was verifying the status of Choksi's citizenship with Antigua and Barbuda.

"Once the information is provided by the Antigua authorities, possible arrangements will be made for Mr. Mehul Choksi to be repatriated to Antigua," the statement had said.

A team of multi-agency officials led by a CBI DIG has gone to Dominica to bring Choksi to India if court there clears his deportation to India, officials said.

Choksi's arrest has created turbulence in the calm political waters of the neighbouring Caribbean Island countries -- Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica -- where allegations have been levelled against opposition parties supporting the businessman having an Interpol Red Notice against him.

Dominican Leader of Opposition Lennox Linton had to issue a denial on the reports of meeting Chetan Choksi, the brother of Mehul Choksi, or receiving any money from him.

"I do not know Chetan Choksi. I have never seen him. I have never spoken to him. I have never met with him," Dominica News Online quoted a video message released by Linton.

Local media outlet Associate Times had alleged that Choksi arrived on a private jet on May 29 and met Linton at his home in Marigot locality the next day for nearly two hours where he gave token money of and promised funding for elections in return for raising the issue in Parliament.

The outlet alleged that Linton was quiet on the Mehul Choksi affair till meeting his brother Chetan. After the meeting, he started attacks on the government over the arrest of the fugitive diamantaire.

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 Modi is in a London prison after being repeatedly denied bail and is contesting his extradition to India, 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.

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