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Republic Exclusive: Mehul Choksi Seen In The Open For The First Time In Years, In Dominica

Mehul Choksi had disappeared from Antigua on May 23, mysteriously surfacing in nearby Dominica 3 days later. He faces the prospect of extradition to India

Image Credit: Republic World

Republic accessed the world's first openly captured visuals of Mehul Choksi since September 2018 late at night on Wednesday as he was taken in on a wheelchair to the magistrate's court in Dominica where he sensationally surfaced, battered and bruised, days after his disappearance in Antigua on May 23.

In the visuals, Choksi, who has been admitted at the Dominica China Friendship Hospital, arrives in a black SUV from which he seems to gingerly step out and is helped into a wheelchair. Choksi is dressed in a sky blue polo t-shirt, shorts and sneakers. He has a light blue face-mask on and one bandaged area just below his right knee.

Shortly after Choksi was taken in, a 4-strong contingent of Indian officials that has been dispatched to Dominica also arrived. Their visuals were also accessed by Republic's 3-strong team of reporters present on location - Andrea, Ronda and Ronalda.

Just hours earlier, a marathon hearing had concluded at the Dominica High Court (different from the magistrate's court) where Mehul Choksi had appeared via video conference and stated before the judge that he did not feel safe in police custody in Dominica, that he wanted to return to Antigua where he has been a citizen even before the Rs 13,400 crore PNB Bank scam came to light in early 2018, and where he has been fighting extradition to India with all the legal protections that are afforded to a citizen in Antigua. In Dominica, however, Choksi does not enjoy such rights, and his desperate plea and even an offer to pay for his own security had come after the Dominican government pushed for his deportation to India in court.

After some amount of confusion over a gag being imposed on journalists preventing them reporting the goings-on inside the High Court, it came to light that the marathon hearing had been adjourned, and will resume on Thursday. Choksi had petitioned against being deported to India, claiming that he needed to be released (to Antigua) as he felt unsafe and had been kidnapped. 'I am the victim,' protested Choksi, while the government of Dominica sought his case to be struck down and contended that his affidavit had irregularities.

Choksi had surfaced in Dominica three days after having gone missing from Antigua, allegedly leaving behind an empty car and amid speculation that he had attempted to escape to Cuba. Antigua & Barbuda's Prime Minister Gaston Browne had told Republic that this scenario was unlikely and that a search had been initiated to track him down. When he surfaced in the nearby island of Dominica, however, the first pictures revealed that Choksi had sustained various injuries and was under custody of the Dominica Criminal Investigation Department (CID) after a Red Corner Notice had been issued against him.

It was Antigua's Prime Minister who first put forth the theory that Choksi had maybe embarked on a romantic getaway with his 'girlfriend' and had been busted, and that leaving Antigua (where he had protections as a citizen) was his undoing. Gaston Browne had stated from the start that he would ask Dominica to extradite Choksi straight back to India, seeking for him to be declared as a persona-non-grata. Briefly, separate political angles also appeared in both Antigua and Dominica with Choksi and his camp being accused of having allegedly bribed opposition leaders. While it is unknown to what extent this allegation is true, what does stand to reason is that there was a 'mystery woman' involved in Choksi landing up in Dominica.

Pictures surfaced of a woman with whom Mehul Choksi had allegedly grown close, going on walks by the beach. Over time, the woman had moved in close to the Choksi residence, and on the fateful day of his disappearance, she had asked him to come to her apartment. When Choksi arrived there, he was allegedly ambushed by a group of people who had been waiting for him, and then shifted on to a boat, surfacing later in Dominica.

Speaking to Republic on Wednesday, Mehul Choksi's wife Priti had made to clear the air around the mystery woman, conceding that Choksi and the woman did indeed go for walks at times and that the woman, named Barbara, had stepped in and out of their lives over the last year. On the day Priti said Choksi was abducted, however, Barbara had indeed called him to the apartment, but allegedly uncomfortable with this prospect, Choksi had instead suggested they go out for dinner. In any event, this did not prevent Choksi to avoid being abducted. Between Priti Choksi and her husband's lawyer Vijay Aggarwal, it has been alleged that Choksi was 'tortured' and then shifted from one boat to a second boat that was allegedly a coast guard boat which brought him to Dominica.

Amid this, Republic has also been following up on the scam he has left behind. Notices from agencies such as the ED and I-T department, as well as from various banks, plaster the door of Choksi's plush Mumbai apartment. Additionally, his attempt to jettison his Indian citizenship and take up Antigua's via a citizenship-for-investment scheme is said to have hit a hitch. Choksi allegedly did not complete his formalities for giving up Indian citizenship, such as the submission of his Indian passport at an Indian Embassy, as per sources. This may be relevant beyond the nomenclature - i.e. whether he would be deported or repatriated.

Mehul Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi used to run Gitanjali Jewellery, of which Nirav Modi was the face. In Feb 2018, it came to light that the pair had utilised a particular vulnerability in a messaging system that is used to communicate between branches of banks in India and those abroad, to rack up a Letters of Undertaking (LOA) scam that had been covered extensively by Republic Media Network at that time.

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