India using Interpol, asset confiscation threat to corner Nirav, Choksi

Nirav and Mehul Collage of Mehul Choksi (left) and Nirav Modi (credit: Amey Mansabdar)

The Central government has adopted a two-pronged strategy to deal with fugitive diamantaires Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, who have been eluding the investigating agencies for eight months. Both the Enforcement Directorate and CBI have an uphill task apprehending Modi and Choksi, given the legal tangles the agencies are facing in the matter.

While an Interpol Red Corner Notice (RCN) has already been issued against Modi who has been located as being in the UK, Choksi has taken citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda and an RCN request against him is pending with Interpol.

In Modi's case, despite the RCN, the UK authorities have not entertained India's extradition request so far. India is now bracing for October when the internal committee of Interpol will take up the pending RCN against Choksi. However, officials familiar with the matter pointed out that Choksi's confirmed presence in Antigua nullifies the importance of the need for a RCN since this Interpol notice is only issued for fugitives.

But ahead of this, investigating agencies like the Enforcement Directorate are keeping another route ready, which is to confiscate the assets of Modi and Choksi under the newly enacted Fugitive Economic Offenders Act. Both Modi and Choksi have been summoned by the special Fugitive Economic Offenders Act court in Mumbai on September 25 and 26, failing which the Enforcement Directorate plans to initiate action against them.

Modi and Choksi have been accused of cheating Punjab National Bank (PNB) to the tune of Rs 13,500 crore. According to Enforcement Directorate sources, the duo have fixed assets worth Rs 11,500 crore within the country. Apart from this, Modi holds assets in the US, which include purchased property worth $7 million that the agency believes has been acquired from the funds believed to be allegedly obtained from the PNB scam.

Both Modi and Choksi have been issued summons and have been asked to explain why they should not be declared fugitives under the new law. The duo have been asked to turn up in court, failing which the Enforcement Directorate request to declare them as fugitives under the law will get a legal stamp on it, allowing the agency to swoop down on their assets in India and abroad. While the PMLA court in Mumbai has asked Modi to appear on September 25, Choksi has been directed to appear before it on September 26.

In the meantime, the investigating agencies are also busy preparing a strong rebuttal of Choksi's claims before Interpol that he is being hounded for political reasons and the conditions in Indian jails are not conducive for his return. The five-member Interpol Committee will examine the submissions of the probe agencies and take a final call on issuing a RCN against him.