NEW DELHI: She was among the many who had queued up on March 10 last year at an immigration counter at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, waiting to be “cleared” to board an international flight.
But as soon as the details of her passport were fed into the computer of the immigration personnel, she turned out to be a person of special interest to the Enforcement Directorate and other investigating agencies who had taken out a ‘look out circular’ against the wife of Sanjay Chandra, the jailed promoter of Unitech.
Immigration authorities were surprised that Preeti, who could not have been unaware of the LoC — directive to the personnel at all embarkation points not to let the person concerned leave the country, had booked herself on an international flight.
The surprise deepened further when Preeti, during questioning, revealed that she had taken up the citizenship of the Dominican Republic: something which meant that India’s law-enforcement agencies would have had to struggle to get her back to India if she had got past the immigration desk.
The agencies are having to toil to secure the extradition of the fugitive diamond trader Mehul Choksi, wanted in multi-crore fraud cases, who had taken up the citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean.
India does not have an extradition treaty either with Antigua and Barbuda or the Dominican Republic, making it a favourite settlement zone for many of our fugitive economic offenders.
The count of economic offenders renouncing Indian citizenship and taking up residency in the Caribbean or the Pacific is on the rise. The latest to join the list is Trinamool Youth Congress leader Vinay Mishra, a close associate of TMC Lok Sabha MP and party’s general secretary Abhishek Banerjee.
Mishra fled the country in November 2020 and took citizenship of Vanuatu in the Pacific, soon after CBI registered a case in a coal scam. He is accused by the ED of laundering the ‘proceeds of crime’ generated from the coal scam in Bengal to the tune of Rs 1,300 crore. Banerjee has been grilled twice already in the case.
The trouble ED is facing in seeking to extradite fugitive Mehul Choksi from Antigua Barbuda is well known, despite hiring Queen’s Counsel Harish Salve for the job in May last year when Choksi allegedly “fled” to Dominica to escape deportation.
Nirav Modi, Choksi’s nephew and another prime accused in the PNB scam worth Rs 13,500 crore, was arrested a few years ago in London where he had moved from Belgium to seek asylum. His family members too have fled the country and are now based at unknown destinations.
Some have chosen Nigeria, Albania or even St. Kitts as safe haven to escape the ED. The Sandesara brothers, Chetan and Nitin, of Sterling Biotech fled to Nigeria where they acquired oil rigs, private jets and ships. Their luxury properties are spread across continents in the US, the UK and Dubai, according to the ED which has attached many of these assets estimated to be worth over Rs 9,700 crore.
Information with the agencies here revealed that the two brothers fled India in 2017 with family and now shuttle between Nigeria and Albania and have taken citizenship of both the countries. Nigeria, a source said, had in the past refused to entertain India’s request for extradition of the accused.
Another diamond merchant, Jatin Mehta of Winsome Diamonds, fled the country in 2014 cheating public sector banks of more than Rs 6,800 crore. He is known to have taken citizenship of St Kitts.
Sanjay Chandra, brother Ajay and their father Ramesh Chandra are behind bars for allegedly laundering more than Rs 2,000 crore to tax havens from the collection made from homebuyers. Before her arrest, Preeti had already been questioned regarding the Trikar group, the latter was behind laundering of over Rs 400 crore out of Rs 2,000 crore ‘proceeds of crime’ estimated by the ED in the Unitech money laundering case. — The Times of India