A court in Dominica on Wednesday (local time) denied bail to Mehul Choksi, the fugitive jeweller wanted in India in the ₹13,500 crore PNB fraud case, for illegally entering the country from nearby Antigua.
Choksi appeared before the magistrate court in wheelchair. Dressed in blue T-shirt and a black pair of shorts, he pleaded not guilty and submitted that he was allegedly kidnapped and brought to the island.
“Various non-nationals in Dominica are on bail for similar matters, so we are of the view that bail can be granted to our client. Let stringent conditions be added to the bail condition, including a bail sum of $10,000 double the maximum penalty, for illegal entry,” the businessman’s lawyer argued in court.
The Dominican government said Choksi should be denied bail because he was a flight risk.
“Choksi has no ties in Dominica. It would serve him no purpose not to flee the island if bail is granted. Choksi has an Interpol Red Notice against him as he is facing charges for 11 offences in India,” the government lawyer submitted.
After hearing both sides, the magistrate rejected bail. “Given the severity of the matter, I am not convinced to grant bail,” Candia Carrette-George ruled.
Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi are wanted for allegedly siphoning ₹13,500 crore of public money from the state-run PNB. Modi is currently in a London prison after being repeatedly denied bail.
Choksi allegedly went missing on May 23 from Antigua and Barbuda, where he had been living since 2018 as a citizen. He was detained in Dominica. Unconfirmed reports have suggested he was trying to flee to Cuba. Media have also speculated the presence of a rumoured girlfriend with him.
In an interview to Business Standard newspaper, Choksi’s wife Priti said she last saw him on May 23. “At 5.11pm exactly he left. He wanted to go for dinner. That’s the last time I saw him,” she said.
Priti said when he didn’t return home, she filed a police complaint. “My husband hasn’t left this island [Antigua] in three years. His health is not good. He is 63 years old,” she said.
Priti and Mehul’s lawyer have consistently claimed that the diamantaire was abducted and taken to Dominica. Priti told Business Standard the woman rumoured to be Choksi’s girlfriend, Barbara Jabarika, was known to him and his acquaintances. “She walked with my husband periodically when she was visiting Antigua. From what I have understood from people who have met her, the woman shown on media channels is not the same woman that they knew as Barbara,” she said.
Priti said when her husband first arrived in Dominica, he was not allowed to meet a lawyer or get medical attention. “The first time a doctor saw him was when the foreign minister from here [Antigua] arranged it.
“On Wednesday (26 May) evening a doctor saw him. The lawyers tried to see him on Wednesday afternoon; they were not allowed to. And Thursday (27 May) morning by chance one of the lawyers was able to see him at 7.30 in the morning. My husband was terrified.
“He thought he was going to be killed. The narrative being woven is that he absconded, and the first story, the Cuba story, pointed people in that direction. It was very ham-handed,” she said.