Absconding diamantaire Mehul Choksi had prior knowledge of the impending Enforcement Directorate (ED) enquiries against him in 2017 which triggered him to plan his escape from India and cover his tracks by concealing evidence, the agency has said. The CBI in its supplementary charge sheet has invoked Section 201 of the IPC among other charges which pertain to the destruction of evidence by a suspect as part of criminal conspiracy.
Choksi allegedly in a criminal conspiracy with PNB Deputy Manager Gokulnath Shetty got back all the documents which were submitted for the issuance of 165 Letters of Undertaking (LOU) and fraudulent amendments made in 58 Foreign Letters of Credit (FLC) during March and April, 2017. Shetty "dishonestly and fraudulently" returned all the original applications along with other accompanying documents submitted by accused companies Gitanjaii Gems Ltd, Gili India Ltd and Nakshatra Brands Ltd back to them, which should have been in the custody of the bank, the CBI has alleged.
"These applications along with the documents were recovered during searches conducted by CBI from the premises taken on rent by the employee of Mehul Chinubbhai Choksi at the instance of Vipul Chunilal Chitalia," the CBI alleged. The applications along with the documents were first kept at 101/A, Sony Chamber Annex, Opera House Mumbai and other premises at Khetwadi near Harkishan Das Hospital, Mumbai, the agency has alleged.
These were shifted on February 5, 2018, within a week of CBI taking over investigation, to Shop No. 188/A/192 on Babasaheb Jaykar Marg, Mumbai, a place taken on rent by Chitalia with the intention to cause "disappearance of evidence", the CBI alleged. These documents were recovered during the searches conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) during investigation of the case.
The agency also found records of fraudulent LOUs and FLCs in the Google drive of Chitalia during police custody. While his employees were allegedly busy covering tracks of the scam on his instructions, Choksi himself was trying to escape from India to a safer destination, the CBI alleged.
During 2017, Choksi had visited Hong Kong where he had met "dummy" directors of supplier companies, who were allegedly his employees, the CBI has alleged. These supplier companies Shanyao Gong Si Ltd, 4C's Diamond Distributors and Crown Aim Ltd were the beneficiaries of the LOUs and FLCs worth Rs 6,345 crore issued by the Punjab National Bank.
During the visit, Choksi asked the dummy directors to not visit India as they may be subjected to ED enquiries pertaining to Gitanjali group promoted by him, the agency has alleged. "This shows that Mehul Choksi had prior knowledge of impending criminal proceedings. Hence, Mehul Choksi fled India on January 4, 2018, with dishonest intent to evade the process of law," the supplementary charge sheet filed last week said.
Choksi had taken citizenship of Caribbean Island country of Antigua and Barbuda in 2017 where he was staying since 2018 till his mysterious disappearance on May 23. He was held in neighbouring country Dominica where he was arrested for illegal entry and is facing court proceedings.
The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne has claimed in interviews that Choksi had not given accurate information about him while taking citizenship through the investment scheme of the country. The CBI which filed its supplementary charge sheet nearly three years after its first report alleged that Choksi asked Directors of Hong Kong based supplier companies to get a Thailand Visa as Hong Kong operations would be closed.
In December 2017, Choksi allegedly telephoned Kalpen Doshi, a director in Crown Aim, asking him that all dummy directors should provide their documents to his aide Chitalia, also an accused, to apply for work permits for Abbeycrest, Bangkok, a company controlled by him, the CBI said. Next year, Chitalia again warned dummy directors to not visit India in the wake of more trouble" from the investigations started by agencies, it said.
The directors were shifted to Bangkok in February when the investigation into the scam began, it said. But the directors returned in the second quarter of 2018. While Choksi was moving directors, Shetty, prima donna of the scam in the bank, made desperate attempts to clean his slate prior to his superannuation, the CBI has found.
Shetty was approver in all the FLCs issued for Choksi's companies. He allegedly made entries in some FLCs initially in the central banking system of the PNB but later modified them to huge amounts without making any mention in the CBS to evade any scrutiny in case of default. Prior to his superannuation in 2017, he allegedly made pre-payment in 12 out of 16 bills drawn in fraudulent amendments putting them in "collection bills" rather than "negotiation bills" in the international banking messages called SWIFT.
No corresponding entries were made in the CBS of the bank.