India has reportedly sent a team of eight officials, including from the Ministry of External Affairs and the CBI, to facilitate fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi’s return to India.
The key accused in the Rs 13,600 crore Punjab National Bank fraud case has been wanted in India ever since he fled in 2018 to escape the Indian law.
Choksi is now in Dominica, following reports over his abduction and alleged torture - pictures of Choksi that have surfaced online show him with swollen eyes and bruises on his hands and wrists.
The incident has raised political tension between the Antigua and Barbuda Government, its opposition parties and the Dominican Government over complicity in the ‘kidnapping.’
However, in a new turn of events, local news reports from Dominica citing sources state that Mehul Choksi's brother Chetan Chinu Bhai Choksi, reportedly met Dominica's Leader of the opposition Lennox Linton, promising election funding in exchange for pushing theories over Choksi's abduction.
Choksi applied for Antiguan citizenship in 2017 and fled to the country in January 2018, before news of the fraud broke out. There are multiple arrest warrants against him, along with an Interpol Red Notice as well. While the Prime Minister of Antigua, Gaston Brown has said that he can be deported to India from Dominica, Choksi’s legal team has argued that he is no longer an Indian citizen.
With attempts at getting Choksi's extradition gaining momentum, the spotlight is back on other such fugitives who have fled the country after committing crimes and offences. India has managed to catch only 2 of the 72 fugitives who are at large and absconding in other countries. Many of the fugitives have cited the condition of India’s prisons as reasons why they do not wish to be extradited.
We take a look at some of the top fugitives that India has been trying to extradite over various charges:
The former Vice President of the Board of Cricket Control of India (BCCI) and the founder and first chairman of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Lalit Modi was suspended from the BCCI in April 2010 on 22 charges, including bid-rigging, awarding contracts to close friends, accepting kickbacks on broadcast deals, money laundering and betting.
Modi defended himself saying that he was not solely responsible for the decisions and that BCCI and its committees had taken decisions collectively. He fled to London in May 2010, citing threat to life.
In 2013, a BCCI committee, led by former BJP leader and then BCCI VP, the late Arun Jaitley, found him guilty on eight charges, which included rigging bids, favouring World Sports Group over TV rights, planning a rival cricket league, signing free commercial time deal without governing council’s approval, among others.
In 2017, the CBI sent documents to Interpol to process a Red Corner notice against the former IPL chief, which was denied. In 2018, India filed a request to the UK Government seeking early extradition of Modi.
The other party being investigated in the Rs 13,700 crore PNB fraud, Nirav Modi who is Mehul Choksi’s nephew, fled India in 2017. Modi has been charged with criminal conspiracy, cheating, corruption, criminal breach of trust, fraud, embezzlement and breach of contract in the PNB case.
In 2018, the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court of India declared Modi a ‘fugitive economic offender’ under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act 2018. In the same year, India approached the UK for his extradition.
On March 19, 2019, Modi was arrested in London and on February 25, 2021, the UK approved his extradition, with the UK Home Secretary Priti Patel signing the extradition order.
Modi, however, appealed against the court order, arguing that he would not receive a fair trial in India and faced a suicide risk. As India continues its efforts to get him extradited, Modi is currently lodged in the Wandsworth Prison in London.
An accused arms dealer and proclaimed offender, Sanjay Bhandari is wanted in India on money laundering charges. Bhandari fled India to the UK in 2016. He was arrested in the UK in 2020 after the UK certified the Indian Government’s extradition request in June 2020.
Bhandari is currently out on bail and is contesting his extradition case. He had caused a political storm in India over his reported links with Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi’s husband, Robert Vadra.
In January 2019, flamboyant businessman fugitive, former owner of the Royal Challengers Bangalore team and chairman of the United Breweries Group, Vijay Mallya became the first person to be declared a fugitive economic offender under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act 2018. Mallya is wanted in India on charges of money laundering and fraud, owing to a consortium of banks Rs 10,647 crore.
The liquor baron has been living in the UK since feeling India in 2016. On March 1, 2021, the UK Home Secretary approved his extradition to India. However, despite Mallya exhausting all legal options in the UK, the extradition process has been delayed as he is reportedly seeking asylum in the UK and has political connections.
He is currently out on bail in the UK.
Chetan Jayantilal Sandesara, Nitin Jayantilal Sandesara, Hitesh Patel
A Delhi High Court has declared Nitin Jayantilal Sandesara, his wife Dipti Sandesara, brother-in-law Hitesh Patel and Chetan Jayantilal Sandesara, directors of Gujarat-based pharma company Sterling Biotech, fugitive economic offenders. The offenders, who fled to Nigeria in 2017, are wanted in a Rs 8,100 crore banking fraud case.
The prime accused of the Naval war room spy scandal, Ravi Shankaran, decorated ex Indian Naval clearance diving officer, businessman and alleged arms dealer, fled to the UK to escape trial in India after the CBI registered a case against him in March 2006.
Sankaran gave himself up in London in 2010, after an Interpol Red Corner notice was issued against him. Proceedings to secure his extradition to India were initiated in 2013. However, he appealed against the order in the High Court, which then rejected his extradition.
Sankaran, the nephew of former Naval Chief Arun Prakash, is accused of leaking classified information from the Naval war room, which contained Top Secret files with details of the Navy’s fleet and submarines, vulnerable areas and vulnerable points in the Indian air defence network and operation plans in disputed areas, to arms dealers.
Considered to be one of the biggest defaulters after Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi, Jatin Mehta, the promoter of Winsome Group owes a consortium of banks more than Rs 6,500 crores. Mehta, who fled the country in 2016, before the alleged fraud surfaced, is a citizen of St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean.
The CBI has filed around 8 cases against Mehta all pertaining to alleged bank frauds. According to recent reports, investigating authorities suspect that Mehta might have moved to the Eastern European country Montenegro with his family and may have floated companies there.