NEW DELHI: The CBI has asked an Interpol
body to restore the Red Notice against fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi terming its earlier decision to drop his name from the list had “serious shortcomings, procedural violations, overreach of mandate and mistakes”.
The Commission for Control of Interpol’s Files (CCF) which had removed Choksi’s name from the list of fugitives based on his appeal last year is a separate Interpol body which is “not under the control” of the Interpol Secretariat and is mainly staffed by elected lawyers from different countries where people can challenge decisions to declare them fugitives.
Based on repeated appeals from Choksi, who is wanted in the Rs 13,000 crore bank fraud in Punjab National Bank and is holed in Antigua and Barbuda after fleeing from India in 2018, the CCF removed his name from the Red Notice list in November 2022, the CBI said in a statement.
Red Notice is the highest level of alert by the 195-member strong International Police cooperation organisation Interpol to locate and provisionally arrest a fugitive pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action.
The CBI statement came a day after the media reported the CCF decision causing a huge political uproar.
The agency broke its silence nearly four months after CCF’s decision to drop Choksi from the wanted list was received by it in November 2022, nearly a month after India had organised a grand Interpol General Assembly, it said.
The CCF which had rejected two previous appeals of Choksi — in 2018, to not publish his name on the Red Notice list and in 2020, to remove his name from the list –agreed with his fresh plea in 2022, a year after an alleged abduction attempt from Antigua and Barbuda, the agency said.
Before arriving at any decision, the CCF hears the agencies that have sought an absconder’s fugitive status. The CBI was also asked to provide its input on Choksi’s appeal.
“It was clarified (by the CBI) that the desperately wanted criminal Mehul Chinubhai Choksi has been making all possible attempts to derail ongoing extradition proceedings in Antigua and Barbuda, to evade the process of law in India. However, based on mere imaginary conjunctures and unproven surmises, a five-member CCF chamber has taken a decision on the deletion of Red Notice, communicated in November 2022,” the CBI said.
The statement said the CBI has taken up with CCF the serious shortcomings, procedural violations, overreach of mandate and mistakes committed by CCF in the manner of reaching this unfounded and perfunctory decision.
“The CBI continues to exercise available remedial and appellate options within INTERPOL for rectification of this faulty decision and for restoration of Red Notice,” it said.
The CCF has subsequently clarified to the CBI that its decision “in no manner has any determination on any guilt or innocence of Choksi” for crimes he remains charged in India, the agency said.
The CCF has reiterated that “it has not established factual certainties and there is no factual finding in their decision that Mehul Chinubhai Choksi will not have fair trial”.
The CBI had pointed out that even Antigua authorities consider there is sufficient evidence to substantiate that Choksi concealed material facts or made false representation when he applied for his Antigua and Barbuda citizenship, a fact which reflects on previous conduct of this criminal, it said.
Based on new information and serious errors in the decision, CBI is taking steps for the decision of CCF to be revised, the agency said.
Choksi had fled from India in the first week of January 2018, days before Rs 13,000 crore was detected in the PNB. At the request of the CBI and Enforcement Directorate, Interpol included his name in the list of most wanted fugitives called Red Notice in December 2018.
“It may be noted that Mehul Chinubhai Choksi was already located prior to the publication of the Interpol Red Notice and steps were also initiated for his extradition. Although the primary purpose of Red Notice was already achieved, the same was retained as a precautionary measure,” the CBI said.
The CBI issued a diffusion notice to locate Choksi in February 2018. His movements were tracked by the CBI in close direct coordination with foreign law enforcement agencies, and he was located in Antigua and Barbuda where he had taken citizenship, a year before he escaped from India.
“Extradition request against Mehul Chinubhai Choksi was sent through diplomatic channels to competent authorities of Antigua and Barbuda in August 2018,” the statement said.
The CBI had booked Choksi on February 15, 2018, and after the CCF decision came, the agency slapped fresh FIRs against him.
“The CBI has already filed two chargesheets in the case against wanted criminal Mehul Choksi and others … Subsequently in 2022, CBI registered five more criminal cases against Mehul Choksi and others for defrauding banks and financial institutions,” it said.
The agency said that when extradition proceedings were going on against Choksi in Antigua and Barbuda, he started approaching various international forums with fully concocted and imaginary narratives to create diversions.
“Facing possibilities of imminent extradition from Antigua and Barbuda, wanted criminal Mehul Chinubhai Choksi again with a view to create diversions from the ongoing process and derail the ongoing extradition proceedings, with false claims, concocted dramatic stories and imaginary narratives approached various international forums and also approached CCF in July 2022 to revise its earlier decision of 2020 (rejecting his claims,” the agency said.
Choksi had disappeared from his sanctuary in Antigua and Barbuda in May 2021 to mysteriously appear in neighbouring Dominica where he was detained for illegal entry.
The CBI mobilised its team to bring him back from Dominica, but swift legal moves by Choksi’s lawyers ensured he was sent back to Antigua and Barbuda and all charges of illegal entry were dropped.
His lawyers had alleged that he was abducted from Antigua and Barbuda.