- Mehul Choksi is wanted in Rs 13,000 crore PNB loan fraud case
- Police in the Caribbean island nation have launched a manhunt for him
- He has been involved in a long-running legal battle to stop extradition
Mehul Choksi - the 62-year-old fugitive diamantaire wanted by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate in connection with Rs 14,000 crore PNB loan fraud and money-laundering case - has gone missing in the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, to which he fled in 2018.
Mr Choksi's lawyer, Vijay Aggarwal, confirmed to NDTV on Tuesday morning that his client is missing and that his family is looking for him. He also said Antiguan police had launched a manhunt.
Sources within the CBI told NDTV it had not been officially informed that Mr Choksi is missing, but it is writing to the Antiguan embassy in India for confirmation and more information.
Agency sources also said a Red Notice against Mr Choksi - issued by Interpol in 2018 - meant they will be alerted if he entered any immigration point anywhere in the world.
Meanwhile, intelligence sources, quoting local media in Antigua, say Mr Choksi, who is fighting extradition to India, might have shifted base to Cuba. "We have got such reports (and) we are ascertaining it," a senior official told NDTV.
However, Mr Aggarwal dismissed such reports, saying his client had no reason to leave Antigua.
"He is a valid citizen of Antigua. He had no legal impediment, constraint or risk. Moreover, in Antigua, by challenging the constitutional validity of the Antiguan Extradition Act and Antiguan Citizenship Act, we have taken a stay on even processing of any extradition request," he was quoted by ANI.
Like Antigua, India and Cuba have no extradition agreement.
The police, according to news agency PTI, began searching for Mr Choksi on Sunday.
"Police are investigating a Missing Person's Report of 62-year-old Mehul Choksi of Jolly Harbour. Mehul was reported missing Sunday, May 23 at Johnson Point Police Station," the statement said.
They have sought the public's help in finding Mr Choksi, whom they described as of "Indian descent, brown in complexion, five feet six inches in height, heavily built with a balding hairline".
"Anyone with information is asked to call the Johnson Point Police Station or the Criminal Investigations Department (CID)," local media outfit Antiguan Newsroom appealed.
According to news agency ANI, Mr Choksi left his home at 5.15 pm Sunday (local time) to go for dinner at a restaurant in the southern part of the island.
He was last seen in his car, which has been recovered. But there is still no sign of him. Numerous searches have been conducted to no avail, ANI said, quoting an Antiguan police statement.
Mehul Choksi is involved in a long-running legal battle to stop his extradition to India.
He currently holds Antiguan citizenship. Last year Antigua Prime Minister Gaston Browne said that citizenship would be revoked once all of his legal options had been exhausted.
Mr Browne made it clear his country - among many 'tax havens' in the Caribbean - will not provide "safe harbour for criminals, for those who are involved in financial crimes".
"Choksi's citizenship was processed, he got through. We do have recourse, the reality is his citizenship will be revoked and he will be deported to India," the Antigua Observer reported Mr Browne as saying.
In March Mr Choksi's lawyer countered media reports that said citizenship had, in fact, been revoked by an Antiguan civil court. Mr Aggarwal said Mehul Choksi remains an Antiguan citizen.
In an earlier interview with ANI Mr Choksi had protested his innocence and said that the charges against him are false, baseless and motivated by political expediency.
Mr Choksi's nephew, billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi, 50, is also wanted in connection with the PNB scam case. Like his uncle Mr Modi fled India in 2018 and is currently in the United Kingdom.
Nirav Modi's extradition to India was cleared by the British government last month. However, Mr Modi can still challenge that extradition order before the UK High Court.
That process may take months or even years, as seen in the case of liquor baron Vijay Mallya, who went to court against his extradition order signed back in February 2019.
With input from ANI, PTI