New Delhi, June 2, 2021-
Even as a court in Dominica is all set to hear the habeas corpus plea filed by the lawyers of fugitive Indian businessman Mehul Choksi later in the day, his wife Priti Choksi in an interview with Business Standard has alleged that the ‘mysterious girl, Barbara Jabarika, had come to Antigua and Barbuda in August 2020 and she had walked in to their other house on the island.
She also claimed that after his capture, Choksi had thought he was going to be killed.
The fugitive diamantaire, who has been staying in Antigua and Barbuda since 2018 after taking citizenship in 2017 under the Citizenship by Investment programme, had gone missing on May 23, sparking a massive manhunt in the island nation.
He was captured in Dominica on May 27. A Dominican court has restrained the extradition of Choksi until further orders while hearing a habeas corpus plea filed by his lawyers.
In the interview, Priti Choksi said, “At 5:11 pm exactly on Sunday he left. He wanted to go for dinner, and he left; that’s the last time I saw him. At about 8.30 or 9ish I began to get worried. He is normally home by 7 pm. But because he said he was going for dinner, I started trying his numbers. His Antiguan number came as voicemail and his WhatsApp numbers were ringing. I was getting very, very nervous. I was lonely, I don’t know many people here (in Antigua).”
She further said that Choksi has a friend who comes as a consultant and works with him.
“So I called him up at about 10 or a quarter to 10. I asked, ‘are you with him’? My first thought in my mind was maybe he was walking on the beach and maybe he went to the water and maybe you know something happened, an accident. So this person also went out looking. We have a cook who helps out. I called him up and said, ‘by any chance did sir (Mehul Choksi) call you up’? And he said ‘no’,” Priti said in the interview to Business Standard.
Narrating the ordeal, she said that then Choksi’s friend also came across.
“I asked, ‘can you just go around to the beaches’? By 10:30, a quarter to 11, he called to say he could find anything. The other person also said the same thing. Then both of them said, ‘let us go to the police station, because this is not normal’. So we went to the police station.
“There was curfew (because of COVID) from 11 o’clock, 11 pm to 5 am is curfew, we had only one curfew pass. So we went in one car to the police station. These two people (the consultant and the cook) they wrote the complaint,” she told Business Standard.
She also claimed that initially the police were like, ‘you should wait for 24 hours’.
“But we said there was no way he wouldn’t be home. They did take it seriously, thank God, and filed a complaint. They had cruisers going on the beaches and roads at that time; because of curfew they were making sure the beaches were not packed or people weren’t partying.
“They immediately contacted the cruisers and said can you have a look. We went and we also thought we’ll look around if we can see him or the car on which he went. This is about 12 o’clock midnight. Police said, ‘we are searching, don’t worry, go home, it’s curfew, you can’t be out’. They went on their patrol and we went home,” she recalled in the interview.
When asked if she has the copy of the complaint which she filed with the police, she said: “We asked for it, but they said you now have to go through the commissioner and a lawyer to get it. I am very disturbed that he (Mehul Choksi) was taken around 5.30 pm on a boat and no one seems to have seen it. None of the video surveillance cameras at Jolly Harbour (a popular part of Antigua) are working.”
To a question about the car which Choksi drove, she said, “Where the car was found at 7.30 the following morning, the police had patrolled the same area at 3 am and it wasn’t there. But it was mysteriously found at 7.30 am.”
When asked about Jabarika, who is alleged to have lured Choksi into her house, from where he claims he was kidnapped, Priti said, “No I haven’t seen her, but I knew she had come (to Antigua) in August (2020) and she had walked in to our other house on the island and she befriended the chef there.”
“I knew my husband used to walk with her. On the Friday and Saturday before he was taken, they went to Jolly Beach South for a walk. That’s where my husband would normally go, because there are lots of people there normally and all the houses have cameras,” she said in the interview.
“She (Jabarika) insisted on Sunday that they go to the north side of the island. He said he didn’t feel like walking, because he was feeling a little tired. He said, ‘I’ll just go for dinner’. Where she was suggesting it was very secluded,” Priti claimed.
When asked about the appearance of Jabarika, Priti said, “It’s not the person who is being shown by the TV media. She looks different. You’ve got a sexy femme fatale being shown. That’s not what she looks like. She may have a good body, whatever, whatever, but the thing is it’s not her.”
When further pressed if Jabarika has disappeared or whether she is no longer in Antigua, Priti said, “There are rumours surfacing that she may be in Dominica or she may have left.”
Sharing the details of Choksi’s movements Priti said that he had not left the island in the last three years as his health is not good and he is 63 years old.
She also said that Choksi’s passport is at home.
When asked about what happened to Choksi when he apparently arrived in Dominica on May 25, she said, “He wasn’t allowed to meet a lawyer, get medical attention, nothing.”
Priti said that the first time a doctor saw him was when the foreign minister from Antigua arranged for it.
She also said that “Choksi thought he was going to be killed”.
“The narrative being woven is that he absconded, and the first story, the Cuba story, pointed people in that direction. It was very ham-handed. My husband is no longer an Indian citizen as per Section 9 of the Indian constitution. In 2017, he ceased to be an Indian citizen. The safest place on earth for him is Antigua,” she added.
Choksi is wanted in India by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with Rs 13,500 crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) loan fraud case. He had shifted to Antigua in January 2018, days before the CBI registered a case.
Last Thursday, the first pictures of Choksi emerged online showing several signs of bruises on his arms and a swollen eye.
His lawyer in India, Vijay Agarwal, had told, “Choksi was forced to get into a vessel from Antigua and was taken to Dominica. He also claimed that there were marks on Choksi’s body, implying the use of force.”
“There is something fishy and I guess it was a strategy to take him to another place so that there are chances of sending him back to India. So I don’t know what forces are operating. The time will tell,” he had said.
However, Antigua Police Commissioner Atlee Rodney has rubbished the claims of Choksi’s counsel and said that they have no information on him being forcefully removed.
An eight-member team of Indian officials has also landed in Dominica on a private jet for the extradition of Choksi. (Agency)