Barbara Jarabica, whose name has cropped up in fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi’s alleged abduction case, has rubbished the charges of being involved in his kidnapping, while also clarifying that she is just a “friend" of the businessman, who had introduced himself to her as Raj.
She also said that she had no inkling about Choksi’s fraudulent business dealings in India, and that everything about him “seemed really normal and he always seemed like a good friend".
Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi had fled India in the first week of January 2018, weeks before a multi-crore scam in the Punjab National Bank rocked the Indian banking industry. The duo allegedly bribed officials of the state-run bank to get Letters of Undertaking (LoU) based on which they availed loans from overseas banks that remained unpaid.
Choksi had mysteriously gone missing on May 23 from Antigua and Barbuda, where he has been staying since 2018 as a citizen after he fled Delhi.
He was detained in the neighbouring island country Dominica for illegal entry. His lawyers alleged that he was kidnapped from Jolly Harbour in Antigua by policemen, who looked like Antiguan and Indian, and then brought to Dominica on a boat. Reports have alleged that Jarabica was part of the ‘abduction crew’, meant to ‘allure’ Choksi.
In an exclusive interview to CNN-News18, Jarabica discloses how she met Choksi, what their relationship was, and how she thinks that his abduction from the island was ‘impossible’.
Edited excerpts below:
Q: There are reports that you have been associated with Mehul Choksi for a period of time.
A: Yes, I started to see these news, and received some messages and calls and links since last week. Then I got to know this story and came to know that Raj, my so-called friend, who had introduced himself to me as Raj one day. Even in the restaurant, everyone knew him as Raj.
I found out that that his real name and personality is actually Mehul Choksi and he was a big jeweller, but he retired and sold his business. But it’s actually not the truth, because he’s a fraudster. And so there are a few lies that I found out recently that he probably was very ashamed of and maybe did not want to share with me. But, yes, it’s been a very overwhelming for the last few days. It is shocking; what’s happening and the stories that are going around in the case.
Q: Where did you meet?
A: I met him…well, I had been in Antigua. I visited the Caribbean in the last few years generally, and I’m traveling a lot. But I had been in Antigua for the first time, two years ago. And I met him. I met Raj in August, so about eight months ago. We had rented an Airbnb in that area, as because of Covid, there had not been many hotels or other accommodations available.
So we stayed in that area for a few days and on the last day when I was checking out, he said that if you need any help, we could leave the keys there, and it was not an issue because he was also in charge of these properties. And he said he was the ‘best person’ to know in the island, and that to let him in case he needed anything. And then he asked for my number and that’s how we got to know each other since August.
Q: So was his wife aware about your relationship with him?
A: I’m not sure. I don’t think so. I never met his wife. But I must clarify, because of different articles and stories alleging that maybe I’m a girlfriend, lover or police personnel - that I am actually a friend, contact of him.
Personally too, I am a friendly person. And I always I know a lot of people from different countries and have a lot of contacts. And he seemed like a really intelligent, smart and well-connected person. Thus, he really seemed like a good person and contact to know in the Caribbean. So that’s how we had a good friendship.
And over time, especially in April and May, he kept trying to convince me to get involved and do some jewelry business with him. He said that even though he retired, he has still very good sources and he has someone in Europe who was managing his sales online. And then he showed me some pieces; he keeps a lot of these. He has a lot of jewelry in his drawer and cupboard in his office. And he also gave me one piece (two units) in total.
We had a lot of conversations that time, and he wanted to convince me that it’s a great business opportunity. So I think that’s why he also gave me the jewelry, so that I might I see the product and be interested to get involved in this jewelry business.
Q: There are reports that you were involved in his abduction; the so-called ‘abduction’ from Antigua to Dominica. Is that true?
A: There are a lot of crazy Netfix-like stories going around in the news; whether it was that I was having dinner with him in Dominica, or I was having dinner with him in Jolly Harbour, on the way. That I was on the yacht, and then I wasn’t on the yacht. But I am sorry, there are a lot of stories that they’ve been trying to make up. But the thing is that the last time I saw him on Sunday, we actually went for a breakfast meeting. We went for breakfast and we said goodbye to each other around before 12:00 pm, before the mid-day.
And then after that, I had little time left. I went to my apartment. I attended some calls. And then at around three o’clock I went to the airport. So first of all, I wasn’t even with him and I didn’t meet him or I wasn’t in the area at that time when he’s saying that someone kidnapped him.
But most importantly, and you can ask local residents if don’t believe me, as I did express my thoughts on this before, it is physically impossible to kidnap anyone in the daytime at around 5:00 pm on a Sunday in the Jolly harbor area.
I mean, if you know the area, it is secure, safe, and a very family-friendly area. And it’s not possible. You know, people know each other. Everyone knows each other. People are sitting in the balcony, people walking home from the beach. So if there would be eight people, even not even eight, then four, if someone would be doing anything suspicious, people and the neighbors immediately would pick up on it.
So this I must say to whoever came up with this story, that this is impossible.
Q: During your meetings and your stay together, did you ever come to know about his frauds in India or any kind of crimes that he has committed? Or during your stay, did you ever get the idea that he has committed some major crime in India or he’s a bank cheater?
A: No, not at all. Never, and he never mentioned anything about that. And he probably knew that if he told me his real background, I would not hang out with him or keep him as a contact or a friend.
So maybe that’s the reason. That’s why he lied to me. The only thing I must say is that I’ve been suspicious about it. I called him, and asked him in a light manner, what’s the reason he kept changing his numbers? And I thought that I wasn’t sure, but maybe it was because of his wife, or something else, which I had no idea about.
But he changed his numbers quite regularly. Almost every month. He texted me from different numbers. But other than that, everything seemed really normal and he always seemed like a good contact and a good friend.
Q: Has any investigation agency from India, Antigua, or Dominica contacted you so far?
A: I think I shouldn’t disclose my comments in the media about any ongoing investigations.
Q: But will you cooperate with them in case if they call you for any investigation?
A: Yes, absolutely. Yes, I will be happy to cooperate and support the investigation and also provide every information that I know.