Indian-origin diamond merchant Mehul Choksi is accused by Indian law enforcement bodies of defrauding Punjab National Bank, and has been declared a fugitive from justice. His assets in India were seized and sold as part of a recovery process. He is still wanted in India for questioning. The Government of India is pursuing Choksi’s extradition from Antigua, where he has been a citizen since 2017. Meanwhile, he mysteriously disappeared from Antigua, only to be found a few days later in Dominica, which is also an island in the Caribbean. So, what exactly happened? Choksi, now back in Antigua, spoke at great length to tell his story.
Extracts from Mehul Choksi’s statement to Ashis Ray on Zoom:
Ashis Ray: So, what your wife told me was that on the 23rd of May around 5 pm you left the house, your house, to go out for dinner; and you did not come back. You went missing. Your wife then with a couple of other people went to the police station, lodged a missing person’s report. The police could not find you. This is the Antiguan police, who could not find you that night. Then the next thing we heard was that you were in Dominica. This was a few days later. But tell me first after you left the house at 5 pm on the 23rd of May, what happened thereafter.
Mehul Choksi: Basically I was to meet Barbara and we were to go for dinner. Normally every day I go for a walk around this time.
AR: You are talking about?
MC: Barbara Jarabik. And I took my car and went to pick her up. She opened the house and she said, ‘Why don’t you come in for a few minutes?’ I thought that maybe she was preoccupied, there was nothing wrong. I parked my car opposite her house, next to her house. I walked back and entered her house, and she was having a glass of wine. She walked around and she made me sit on a sofa. And just after 3-4 minutes after my sitting there—she was also sitting there and looking at the doors on both sides of the house—I heard a huge noise coming out from the main door. The house is such that on one side there is a road and on the other side is a marina. OK. This is how most of the houses in Jolly Harbour (in Antigua) are. It was like an event management, people dressed in blue, the jersey was maybe grey or light blue, and there was a huge noise; tall, big guys, seven to eight of them entered, mostly from the main door, and two or three came from the marina side, and they said, “We know who you are, you are Mehul Choksi, and we are taking you for interrogation and they just took over, means two of them took my hands, two of them took my legs, one person put his hands around my neck; and I was totally taken over by them. I tried to fight the situation, because this kidnap story was on over the last three years, since the end of 2018 when the whole election thing in India was coming up. I was told the plane is arriving, they are sending a plane to pick me up.
Many people used to say ‘they are watching you, they will pick you up, they will kill you’; all these rumours… again and again every three months they would keep on coming. Some of my good friends here, business people, told me, ‘this is a safe place, nothing like this could happen, don’t worry about it’. And that made me bold. My main activity was mostly walking on the island because of my health. So, I could imagine this was going towards kidnapping. I was trying to fight, I could imagine that this could be a kidnap plot. Since the vaccination (for Covid-19, provided to Antigua by India), people told me ‘this vaccination is given in return for you’. It’s also on Facebook. If you go to ‘India is giving vaccination’, you would see this is being given (to Antigua) in exchange for Mehul Choksi, something like that.
I tried to push my legs, bite on their hands around my neck, and they were very angry and they beat me like anything. Then somebody came up with a knife, somebody came up with an electric taser. An electric taser was like a huge horse-shoe with a pipe in the front which was going around—I have not seen anything like this, a machine which was having electric sparks. They would just put it on my hand. For a second with this shocker, I would become unconscious. When I was more aggressive, they would use this. And they used it on my hands, may be 3-4 times, on my face, on the left hand side between the nose and the eye (points to the exact spot with his fingers), even on the leg. They took total control. By that time I was perspiring and almost unconscious. I said ‘OK, OK, do what you want, please don’t beat me more’.
AR: All this was happening in your friend Barbara’s sitting room. Is that correct?
MC: That’s correct. She moved out somewhere, she was not on the scene, but she was in the house. I couldn’t see her, she didn’t protest, she didn’t do anything at all. Then a couple of people went out on the marina side and brought a wheelchair inside the house. They put me on this wheelchair. They started with a rope, tying me up from everywhere. Remember, all the time they were beating me, keeping me in total control and I was almost half unconscious at that time. Two people tied up my legs, two people tied up my hands on to the chair, my body was also tied up and they suddenly got black glasses, which were opaque, so I couldn’t see further. I was trying to get up and fight. Again they would use a taser to put me back into position. Then they put a gag in my mouth. I was becoming breathless. With the dark glasses I couldn’t see anything. They moved me towards the marina side; this must have happened. That particular time they put a mask on me. They were afraid if I made a noise, I would catch the attention of people. I didn’t see anything of this—I was completely, completely pressed (down) at that moment—but I was put on a boat. I haven’t seen that boat. I was choked. I don’t remember how long that particular boat ride was, but I could feel the boat because it was the water noise and the boat noise that were coming a little bit in my ears. I don’t know how long that trip was. When I saw I was in the middle of a huge boat…..
AR: OK, if I could stop you there, because I want to show you something. Let me show you something and then we can carry on from there. Do you recognise this person?
(A photo of Barbara Jarabik named as a suspect in a complaint by a British barrister Michael Polak to the Metropolitan Police in the UK, popularly known as Scotland Yard, is shown to Choksi.)
MC: Yeah, this is Barbara Jarabik. I only knew her as Barbara. The Jarabik name she told me this time. That ‘how you spell my surname is you put J along with arabik, so it is Jarabik’.
AR: So, you are 100 per cent certain that this is Barbara, the person you mentioned earlier, about going to her house and being kidnapped in that house?
MC: That’s correct, that’s correct.
AR: How many people were on the boat?
MC: That particular time I could only see three people, two Indian people, tall guys, and one helper from a crew. Finally I came to know there were totally five people on the boat, two Indian guys and three others, out of which was the owner of the boat; one was the crew of the boat and the other one was a captain. The two Indians were two Punjabis, they said they are RAW agents, they’ve been in the army. We went into conversation and they said they are taking me for interrogation. Again and again they would be very tough with me and beat me here and there, slapped me and things like that. I was asking them ‘Where are we going?’ They said ‘It’s none of your business, just keep quiet.’ They were very rough and rude with me, of course. The owner of the boat was an old gentleman with a beard and the crew were young. The two (Indian) guys were in-charge of me.
AR: How long was this journey?
MC: In my opinion the journey was more than 15-16 hours. Then one by one they went to their room, came into a kind of Pathani salwar kameez, Punjabi clothes. One was in black and the other guy was in dark blue, similar.
AR: Let me just stop you there, because I want to show you something. Do you recognise these two persons?
(A photo of Gurmit Singh and Gurjit Bhandal, named as suspects in a complaint by a British barrister Michael Polak to the Metropilitan Police in the UK, is shown to Choksi.)
MC: Yes, these were particularly the dresses they were wearing. They took this photograph, I could hear from a cabin when they arrived in Dominica, when somebody was clicking and clicking (a camera), a crew member or whatever, but I could just hear they were just clicking and clicking the photographs outside.
AR: So, these are the two people who were on the boat and who were, basically having captured you, taking you to Dominica? You remember them clearly? You can identify them clearly?
MC: Very clearly, very clearly. I was till then under the belief these were RAW agents. Finally, when I thought about it, the whole job was probably outsourced by the agencies. These were professional, whatever you call them, kidnappers or human traffickers. This is what I hear now, I get it now. Then they handed their phone over to me. The guy said, ‘I am Narendra Singh’. It was very official like from India, who could be rough and polite. He said ‘I am Narendra Singh and I am going to handle your case’. He gave me a few instructions. ‘When they interrogate you’, he said, ‘You please say that you were not kidnapped from Barbara’s house, that you met us in Jolly Harbour and I (Choksi) surrendered myself, (that) I (Choksi) want to go to India with you (authorities) and do not speak about what happened; because of a white lady, your wife will feel bad. Besides, it’s better to keep this matter out. If you don’t do this I will torture you and your family like anything.’ May be half an hour later the coastguard boat came. There were 6-7 policemen, they were dressed in dark blue, kind of coastguard clothes. I thought these two Indian guys would also join me. But suddenly these two guys were not there.
* Barbara Jarabik, Gurmit Singh and Gurjit Bhandal have been quoted on media as denying the allegations against them.
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