The Antigua government has approached Interpol Interpol and other international police agencies in the Caribbean region to trace fugitive businessman Mehul Choksi who has been reported missing since Sunday, Prime Minister Gaston Browne told the parliament in reply to a question posed by the Opposition.
Choksi, wanted in a Rs 13,500 crore loan fraud in Punjab National Bank, has been staying since January 2018 after fleeing India.
‘I do not believe that law enforcement or anyone for that matter would have contemplated that Mr Choksi would have fled the country. In any case we don’t have any reliable information to date that he has fled the country. It is likely that he may still be here and law enforcement are utilising all efforts including all intelligence to try and locate Mr Choksi’, Browne informed the parliament hours after unconfirmed reports that Choksi could have fled to Cuba fearing imminent extradition to India.
#BREAKING: Opposition in Antigua raises the issue of Mehul Choksi’s disappearance in parliament. Antigua PM Gaston Browne says, Antigua has shared details with Interpol as well as regional and international police in their efforts to trace the missing Indian economic offender. pic.twitter.com/d9dC80pIsM— Aditya Raj Kaul (@AdityaRajKaul) May 25, 2021
The Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda (RPFAB) has filed a missing person notice with The International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) for a Yellow Notice to be circulated immediately to trace the diamantaire. A Yellow Notice is a global police alert for a missing person. It is published for victims of parental abductions, criminal abductions (kidnappings) or unexplained disappearances. This is a valuable law enforcement tool that can increase the chances of a missing person being located, particularly if there is a possibility that the person might travel, or be taken, abroad.
The 62-year-old was reportedly seen by locals driving in the Jolly Harbour area on Sunday evening around 5 pm where he had gone for dinner.
Antigua Commissioner of Police Atlee Rodney had said that his force is following up on Choksi’s whereabouts even as his car was recovered by the cops.
The police have also questioned several of his relatives and associates.
Earlier speaking exclusively to CNN-News18’s Aditya Raj Kaul, PM Browne had confirmed Choksi’s disappearance.
“Someone from the Mehul Choksi household reported him missing. He left home to have dinner and did not return home. Police found his vehicle at the location where he had dinner and they are now trying to locate him. Police have found the vehicle that he was driving but have not been able to find him," Browne told CNN-News18.
#BREAKING: Antigua Prime Minister Gaston Browne confirms to me that Indian economic offender Mehul Choksi has gone missing from Antigua and Police is trying to trace him. Missing report filed by family. Will seek help from other countries in neighborhood. pic.twitter.com/JqaR9wZYhs— Aditya Raj Kaul (@AdityaRajKaul) May 25, 2021
On reports of him fleeing to Cuba, Browne said, ‘We are not aware of him escaping to Cuba or any other Caribbean country. There was no movement at the airport which would have allowed for any traffic. If he would have taken a boat to Cuba, we would have known. No one knows what the situation is.’
When asked about his imminent extradition to India possibly being a reason for his disappearance, Browne said, ‘The matter is before the court. We wanted to ensure that he is brought to justice. And we just have to allow the due process. We had taken steps to revoke his citizenship but he had mounted legal challenges and as you would know the matter is before the court. And the executive has no control over that issue. We have to wait for the process to be completed. It has been the desire of my administration to extradite him at the earliest possible time.’
Fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi goes missing in Antigua with the police launching a manhunt to trace him since May 23.@AdityaRajKaul shares more details with @ridhimb pic.twitter.com/FjpF68yiSS— News18 (@CNNnews18) May 25, 2021
Meanwhile, while the Indian Ministry of External Affairs along with the Enforcement Directorate and Central Bureau of Investigation has refused to officially react to the situation, sources indicate that the Indian Government and the intelligence network was keeping a close watch and monitoring the developments.
(Aditya Raj Kaul is Contributing Editor, News18 group with more than a decade long experience in covering Conflict, Foreign Policy, and Internal Security. He can be reached at Aditya.Kaul@nw18.com)