MUMBAI, Jun 17: Diamantaire Mehul Choksi, a key accused in the multi-crore PNB bank scam, Monday told the Bombay High Court that he left India for his medical treatment abroad and not to avoid prosecution in the case.
Choksi, currently based in the Caribbean nation of Antigua, told the high court that he would return to India as soon as he is medically fit to travel.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which has moved a special PMLA court here to get Choksi declared a fugitive economic offender, has accused the jeweller of fleeing the country to avoid his arrest.
Choksi filed an affidavit Monday through his advocate Vijay Aggarwal, stating he had left the country in January 2018 for his medical check-up and treatment.
Choksi claimed he left the country on January 4, 2018, while as per the Punjab National Bank, the alleged fraud came to their knowledge on January 16, 2018.
“Hence, the allegations that I left the country to avoid criminal prosecution is without any basis as the PNB itself came to know about the alleged fraudulent issuance of Letters of Undertaking only on January 16, 2018,” Choksi said.
“By that time, I had left the country for medical treatment, he said.
“I have not left the country under suspicious circumstances,” the affidavit said, adding he has always responded to summonses issued by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the ED and is not shying away from the law.
“I am willing to join investigation and subject myself to interrogation in Antigua.
“I am also willing to appear before the special court in Mumbai and before the investigating officer through video conference in the light of my medical condition,” the affidavit said.
“I undertake to travel to India as soon as I am medically fit to travel,” he said.
Choksi filed the affidavit to the high court amid the ongoing adjudication of his two petitions, seeking dismissal of an ED’s plea to the special court to declare him a fugitive economic offender.
The billionaire jeweller, in his petition, has said he is unable to return to India due to persisting health problems.
Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi, who is currently in a London jail, are wanted by the ED and the CBI for allegedly defrauding the PNB to the tune of Rs 13,400 crore in collusion with a few employees of the government-run lender. They are also facing charges of money laundering.
Choksi, in his affidavit, termed “wrong” the ED’s claim that he has been deliberately avoiding to join the investigation despite issuance of several summons for his appearance.
“I have been dealing with medical conditions since year 2012. In India, I had a CT scan and an angiogram, which showed several blocked arteries.
“On the insistence of my family members, I went abroad for medical treatment,” the affidavit said.
In his affidavit, Choksi said he underwent a bypass surgery in February 2018, after which he was advised complete rest and post-operation therapy.
Choksi claimed had he any intention to flee India, he would have not left his assets and valuables to be attached by the prosecuting agencies.
“I am unable to return to India because of my persisting medical conditions,” Choksi claimed.
The jeweller said he cannot travel for long hours on a passenger aircraft and since there is no direct flight from Antigua to India, he will have to take connecting flights which is not possible owing to his health condition.
The ED has moved the special PMLA court seeking that Choksi be declared a “fugitive economic offender” for evading it summons.
A tag of fugitive economic offender will allow the ED to confiscate Choksi’s properties under the provisions of the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018.
Choksi had then filed an application before the special court, seeking dismissal of the ED’s plea.
When the PMLA court rejected his application, Choksi had approached the high court.
The scam related to issuance of fraudulent Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) by PNB to companies of Choksi and Modi since March 2011 in alleged connivance with bank officials.
An LoU is a guarantee given by an issuing bank to Indian banks having branches abroad to grant short-term credit to the applicant. In case of default, the bank issuing the LoU has to pay the liability to the credit-giving bank along with the accruing interest.