The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has filed its first charge sheet against fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi’s wife Priti Choksi over her alleged involvement in the Rs 13,500 crore loan fraud in the Punjab National Bank case, according to reports.
According to the agency, Priti Choksi was the “ultimate beneficial owner” of certain offshore companies used for siphoning off funds obtained by the couple through cheating the Punjab National Bank (PNB). The chargesheet, filed under criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), was placed before a special court in Mumbai in March and the court has taken its cognisance on Monday, according to officials.
In its third chargesheet, the central agency has named Priti Choksi, Mehul Choksi, their three companies: Gitanjali Gems, Gili India Ltd and Nakshatra Brand Ltd and former PNB deputy manager (Brady House branch, Mumbai) Gokulnath Shetty. The ED filed two charge sheets in June 2018 and April 2020.
Priti Choksi, alias Priti Pradyot Kumar Kothari, was the ultimate beneficial owner of three companies including Hillingdon Holdings Ltd and Charing Cross Holdings Ltd in the UAE, the ED said. Hillingdon was incorporated by Priti and one Dion Lillywhite (an employee of US-based Gitanjali Group company and dummy director in some of the group companies) and the sole shareholder of M/s Goldhawk DMCC (previously named Diminico DMCC), the document said as per a report by the Hindustan Times. The company owns three properties in the UAE with a total area of over 5,100 square feet worth over Rs 22 crore.
The ED alleged that Priti was “hand-in-glove with her husband Mehul Choksi in getting companies incorporated for him for laundering and siphoning of proceeds of crime and utilising and projecting them as untainted”. “She was aware of the source of monies which were being routed/siphoned by her husband illegally and fraudulently. She was abettor of the crime thereby being actually involved in the laundering of proceeds of crime…,” the ED alleged.
“Priti Choksi was fully aware that the companies – Hillingdon Holdings Ltd, Goldhawk DMCC and Asian Diamond Jewellery UAE were beneficially owned and controlled by Mehul Choksi. She helped him in incorporating firms in UAE to acquire properties therein. During investigation, summons was issued to her but she didn’t honour them,” the ED charge sheet said.
Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi are wanted for allegedly siphoning off Rs 13,500 crore of public money from the state-run Punjab National Bank (PNB), using letters of undertaking.
While Modi is in a London prison after repeated denial of bail and is contesting extradition to India. Priti and Mehul Choksi took citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda in 2017 using the Citizenship by Investment programme before fleeing India in the first week of January 2018.
The new money laundering charges against Priti Choksi will allow agencies to pursue her extradition from Antigua and may also get notified a Interpol arrest warrant against her on the strength of this chargesheet.
Choksi, Modi and their family members and employees, bank officials and others were booked by the ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 2018 for perpetrating the alleged fraud in the Brady House branch of the PNB in Mumbai.
It was alleged that Choksi, his firm Gitanjali Gems and others “committed the offence of cheating against Punjab National Bank in connivance with certain bank officials by fraudulently getting the LOUs (letters of undertaking) issued and got the FLCs (foreign letter of credit) enhanced without following prescribed procedure and caused a wrongful loss to the bank”.
The ED said its probe found that “PNB bank officials in connivance with Choksi, Gitanjali Gems and others originally issued FLCs for smaller amount within the sanctioned limit and once FLC number was generated, the same number was used for amendment by way of enhancement of FLC and increase in the amount and such enhancement of amount was done at 4-5 times higher value of the original FLC amount”. “Such amendments were done outside the CBS system, and hence, it was not captured in the books of bank,” the ED had alleged.
(With inputs from PTI)