July 24, 2021

In India, a fugitive diamond dealer plays with the authorities

NEW DELHI LETTER

It is the incredible story of the heist of the century, that of the biggest bank fraud that India has known. And it never stops bouncing. Since 2018, the authorities have been battling to get their hands on the diamond dealer Mehul Choksi, whose ambition was to create the Indian LVMH, and his nephew Nirav Modi, who has adorned film stars like Kate Winslet or Priyanka Chopra. The two fled the country, leaving behind a slate estimated at around 1.5 billion euros at the Punjab National Bank, the country’s second public banking institution.

The latest episode of this saga, worthy of the most extravagant Bollywood films, takes place in the Caribbean. Mehul Choksi, the uncle, lived until the end of May as a free man, in full view of all, on the archipelago of Antigua and Barbuda, of which he acquired citizenship. Pursued in India for “Criminal association, breach of trust, corruption and money laundering”, he was the subject of extradition proceedings. Once his legal remedies were exhausted in the Antigua and Barbuda courts, he could be returned to his country of origin, India.

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But Mehul Choksi, who has been playing cat and mouse with Indian authorities for more than three years, mysteriously disappeared on May 23. Three days later, the fugitive diamond dealer was arrested in Dominica, where he has since remained in detention for having entered the territory illegally.

In the Indian media, which are passionate about this affair, two opposing scenarios. The first: Mehul Choksi was arrested on his way to Cuba to escape extradition, along with a young mistress. His lawyers formally deny this version. According to them, and this is the second scenario, their client would in fact have been kidnapped by police officers of Antiguayan and Indian appearance.

“Bring back the fugitives”

Lured into a trap by a friend, the 62-year-old was then reportedly tied to a wheelchair and forcibly boarded a boat heading for Dominica. Of the, “The objective was to bring him quickly back to India by circumventing legal procedures”, said Michael Polak, lawyer at the British firm Justice Abroad, which defends Mehul Choksi.

While India does not have an extradition treaty or agreement with Dominica, the governments of the two countries are currently in talks. India wishes to obtain “The rapid expulsion or surrender of Mehul Choksi [pour] let it be brought to justice ”, said Arindam Bagchi, a spokesman for the Indian Foreign Ministry at a news briefing on June 17.

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