When former Gitanjali Gems chair Mehul Choksi (pictured) was arrested in late May, it looked like he would, after three years on the lam, finally return to India to face charges of allegedly defrauding the country’s state-owned PNB Bank. He was caught on a boat that came from Antigua and Barbuda and ran aground on the island of Dominica, where he was arrested for illegal entry.
Choksi—whose company owned the now-defunct 112-store Samuels Jewelers chain—had been an Antiguan citizen since 2018, ever since it became obvious that Indian officials would bring charges against him. He attained island residency through a citizenship by investment program—which some call “passports for sale.” (Another diamantaire who faces charges in India, former Winsome Diamonds head Jatin Mehta, has used a citizenship by investment program to gain a passport from St. Kitts and Nevis.)
Following the arrest, Antigua’s prime minister, Gaston Browne—who has been under pressure from India for harboring a fugitive (Choksi is the subject of an Interpol Red Notice)—suggested that Choksi had forfeited his citizenship, and he now faced extradition back to India. “We will not accept him back,” Browne said.
When discussing Choksi’s story on the Jewelry District podcast, JCK editor-in-chief Victoria Gomelsky said the whole thing sounded like a movie plot. Yet, this was just the first reel.
In Antigua, Choski waged various legal battles—at one point, siccing the Indian courts on the makers of a Netflix documentary on his nephew, noted diamantaire Nirav Modi, who is also accused of defrauding PNB Bank. India repeatedly tried to extradite Choksi, but according to his attorney, Michael Polak of U.K. law firm Justice Abroad, because of the complexity of the Antiguan legal system, he didn’t risk extradition to India for six to seven years.
The only way he could jeopardize that status was to leave Antigua. Which is now the key issue: Why was he on that boat? Initial reports said he was headed to Cuba. However, his lawyers now say he was abducted and taken from Antigua against his will. And at least some are taking that claim seriously.
On Antigua, Choksi met a vacationing businesswoman, Barbara Jarabica, a Hungarian national. According to both parties, they started spending time together, taking those fabled long walks on the beach and eating meals together.
In a long interview with India Today, Jarabica said Choksi called himself “Raj,” and always called from different phone numbers. While Jarabica claimed Choksi was interested in her, she kept their friendship strictly platonic. At one point, he tried to entice her into the jewelry business. “He works with someone from another country, he has digital people [that] sell jewelry,” she said.
On the night of May 23, Choksi was reported missing. Here is where Choksi’s and Jarabica’s stories diverge. Jarabica says they went to lunch. She was due to leave the island that day, which saddened Choksi, but he hinted he’d see her “soon.”
“He tried to convince me to stay,” she says. “I think he wanted to go somewhere, for sure.”
According to a report filed with Antiguan police that was printed on a local news source, Choksi claims Jarabica invited him to his house at around 5 p.m.
While conversing with her, there was a loud sound just behind us, and 8-10 heavily muscled men appeared from all the entrances. They claimed to be Antiguan police.… They told me they were there to escort me to St. John’s police station but when I resisted and first requested to contact my lawyers, they physically restrained me and began hitting me from all sides.… [They] utilized a taser on my face, hands, and exposed skin, causing burns, bruises, and immense pain.
He claimed he was taken to one boat, then transferred to another, sometimes bound and gagged and in a wheelchair. At one point, Choksi attested, he spoke to someone who claimed he was the “chief agent in charge of my case.”
He began to pressurize me to say that I had cooperated with my captors.… He also said to leave my friendship with Ms. Barbara Jabarica out of the picture as it would lead to a public scandal and cause grievous hurt to my wife.
Eventually, Choksi arrived in Dominica, where he was arrested for illegal entry. Polak claims Choksi was denied medical care and access to lawyers when he was first taken to Dominica. But at one point, an attorney did get through, killing the chance for an easy extradition to India, Polak says. (There were reports that India had a plane in Dominica, ready to take Choksi away.)
So who would want to “abduct” Choksi? Polak hints it’s the government of India, which has been mostly thwarted in its efforts to bring back fugitive economic offenders. (Modi, who was just approved for extradition, is a rare exception.) “It would be politically popular to bring [Choksi] back,” Polak says.
At first, many were inclined to dismiss this wild tale. But as Choski’s lawyers have been producing scraps of evidence—including purported photos of his bruises—that supposedly back up his claim, the story has been gaining a little credence, including with some Indian publications and the Antiguan opposition.
After Choksi filed his report in Antigua, Browne said “the police have taken [it] very seriously and they are currently investigating.” Polak has also filed a complaint in the United Kingdom, against Jarabica and several supposed accomplices. Scotland Yard is reportedly looking into it.
Probably the most convincing argument is that it made little sense for Choksi to leave Antigua, given his relatively secure legal position there.
“He wouldn’t leave,” says Polak. “That’s a stupid idea. He was safe there.”
Of course, many still doubt Choski’s story, including his former colleagues in the diamond business. The Indian government is still trying to extradite him, claiming he’s still an Indian citizen. And Jarabica has called the allegations “crazy” and “physically impossible.”
“If I’m an agent or spy or whatever people in media call me,” she told India Today, “why would I [have him kidnapped] under my own name, in my own apartment, in my own time, in the busiest time of the day?”
Interestingly, both defenses boil down to “Why would I do something so stupid?” Of course, people do stupid things all the time; Choksi spending time with Jarabica was arguably one of them.
Currently, Choksi is in a prison hospital in Dominica; he’s been charged with illegal entry, which, of course, would not apply if he was kidnapped. A Dominican judge has denied him bail, calling him a flight risk.
Choksi’s lawyers want him sent back to Antigua. “That’s where he wants to be,” says Polak.
While it’s easy to compare this to a movie, there are some serious crimes being alleged here, including India possibly taking extrajudicial measures to nab a fugitive, as well as the original allegations against Choksi, which claim he defrauded public banks in India. (Choksi has denied the charges.)
It’s both captivating and ugly, and there may be a few more twists before we reach the last reel of this rather crazy flick.
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