by Gemma Handy
Fugitive diamond dealer Mehul Choksi is set to stay in Dominica for at least the next few days after the country’s High Court scheduled another hearing for Wednesday, again halting his removal from the island.
Details remain sparse due to a judge’s order barring Choksi’s attorneys from speaking with the media – a move which will do little to temper speculation surrounding the furtive nature of the 62-year-old’s exit from Antigua on Sunday.
But inside sources told Observer the court had ruled Choksi be allowed to meet with his legal team and taken for Covid testing before a decision is made on where he will be held in the interim.
On Thursday, the High Court had prevented immigration officers from immediately removing him from the country after his lawyers filed a writ on his behalf.
The billionaire businessman has also now been charged with illegal entry into the nature isle, it emerged yesterday, although he maintains he was kidnapped and forced onto a boat which took him to Toucari Bay on Dominica’s north coast. Antiguan police are said to be investigating the kidnap claims made via Choksi’s attorneys.
Choksi was reported missing by his wife Priti on Sunday, sparking a manhunt. Neighbours in the exclusive community of Harbour Island in Jolly Harbour, where he rents a home with his family, told Observer they last saw him at around 5pm that afternoon.
One local resident said he was forced to pull over as Choksi sped down the road after leaving his house. The Indian-born jeweller had apparently had a booking for dinner at luxury west coast restaurant Sheer Rocks on Sunday evening which he postponed until Tuesday at midday, an insider said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Observer broke the news that Choksi had been apprehended in Dominica, 120 miles away.
Yesterday, further allegations came to light as lawyers and investigators struggle to piece together the puzzle of his bizarre journey to the neighbouring nation.
Justin Simon QC told Observer that high-ranking Dominican police were reportedly waiting for Choksi as the boat arrived, adding fuel to rumours of a cross-border conspiracy.
“It’s as though they were expecting him,” Simon told the Observer AM radio show.
“We all have our speculations” regarding how Choksi got there, the QC continued.
“I fell into that too but when you look at the circumstances … having arrived in Dominica it was only Mr Choksi that was detained. What happened to the other persons on the boat? We’ve heard nothing in respect of that,” Simon said.
“For the whole time he was in custody he was not allowed to see a lawyer, he was not given medical attention, and he was not allowed to call any member of his family. Why would the police do that? That is the question which is being asked.”
On Thursday, attorney Wayne Marsh told Observer he had been denied access to his client in contravention of a court order earlier that day mandating the diamantaire be allowed to meet with lawyers forthwith.
There have also been claims that Choksi was beaten in the process of his voyage to Dominica. Those were backed up by Simon.
“We have pictures showing his face is battered, one of his eyes is swollen, his arm is in a sling,” he said. “There certainly was physical altercation between himself and whoever, and what he has indicated is that he was beaten, he was roughed up, his jewellery was taken, his watch was taken, whatever money he had – and he was told he was going to Dominica so he could be sent over to India,” the QC said.
The owner of Gitanjali Group, a retail jewellery firm with 4,000 stores in India, Choksi is wanted in his native land in connection with a major fraud involving the Punjab National Bank (PNB).
India wants him extradited to face charges of criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, and money laundering, among others. Choksi denies the allegations and claims they are motivated by political expediency.
Choksi has held Antiguan citizenship since 2017, acquired via the citizenship by investment programme. The PNB scam came to light shortly after his arrival in the country. The Antigua and Barbuda government has since started the process to revoke his passport, which Choksi had been fighting through the courts.
Choksi family – some of whom have been sighted in Jolly Harbour since his disappearance – have been told they are free to stay in the country.
Precisely how Choksi reached Dominica – and where he might have been destined for beyond there – remains shrouded in mystery. Conjecture has been exacerbated by conflicting details given on everything from when he was first sighted in Dominica to what type of vessel he arrived in.
Mariners estimate the trip from Antigua to take 10 to 12 hours by sailboat and four to five hours by power boat, so the timing of when precisely he arrived is crucial to the probe.
Some believe Choksi may have been headed to Cuba – perhaps to evade authorities wishing to send him to India to face prosecution. Others have suggested he may indeed have been kidnapped, possibly by rogue elements wanting to make a quick buck, or maybe even by those with links to the Indian government.