Monday, August 6, 2018

Mehul Choksi & Antigua

Antigua is where paradise starts.

Not my line. That is the official line of the Government of Antigua. It is also Mehul Choksi’s belief.

Antigua is a small island forming part of the Leeward Islands, which themselves are part of the West Indies. Antigua, if their website is to be believed, is stunning. A sylvan paradise. In case you did not know, Sir Vivian Richards is from Antigua as are Curtly Ambrose, Andy Roberts and Richie Richardson. It is not just cricketeers who come from Antigua. Antigua’s beauty has been so alluring that Eric Clapton, Richard Branson, Silvio Berlusconi, Giorgio Armani, Timothy Dalton and Oprah Winfrey have homes there.

Mehul was always a person with an eye on the finer things in life. Mehul too has a home in Antigua.

Antigua wants money and investment. So, like many countries – including the USA and the UK – it has schemes whereby, based on how much you spend, you get a selection of rights. It is like a menu card. The right to get residency, permanent residency and citizenship all come at a price. You choose according to your hunger and your budget and get what you need. Of course, I am simplifying and generalizing, but, that is basically the concept in a nutshell. Needless to say, you do need to be clean and free of serious criminal offences to get these rights.

The moment Mehul’s Antiguan nationality was discovered a few days ago, our “middia” was electrified and went into its usual overdrive. Our politicians had something else to exaggerate and the talking heads on TV frothed.

As is the case, after the hysteria was over, Antigua responded. Antigua said that Mehul had applied for a passport way back in March 2017. Mehul had submitted all the documentation to prove that he was a pure as driven snow, and, true to his Palanpuri Jain beliefs, he had not committed any crime. As I have written in the preceding paragraphs, Antigua does not want criminals, so as part of its citizenship program, the applicant has to provide information that he is in fact, clean.

This is where the fun starts.

In 2015 when applying for an Indian Passport, Mehul had used the “Tatkal” system, by which, on payment of a higher fee and some additional paperwork, your Passport is issued very quickly. When the Passport was issued, a remark was made in his file that, in future, “no police verification” would be required. This, I believe, was absolutely normal standard operating procedure. I doubt there was any ‘hera pheri’.

Fast forward to March 2017 when Mehul decided to become an Antiguan. He is required to provide a certificate from the Indian Passport authorities that he is clean. So, on an application made by Mehul to the Passport Office for a Police Clearance Certificate, the Passport office asked the police station at the Tony [I just had to use that word] Malabar Hill in whose jurisdiction Mehul resides, for information. After looking thru the data on the Criminal Antecedents and Information System (CAIS) the Malabar Hill Police Station certified that Mehul indeed was clean, he had no criminal record or history. Based on this proverbial clean chit, our Passport office issued a Police Clearance Certificate to the Antiguan authorities and Mehul got his Antiguan citizenship.

The rest, as they say, is history. Of course, in March 2017 when Mehul did apply for a Police Clearance Certificate, he was innocent [actually he still is] and the PNB Scam was months away in the future.

I guess that you must be in the know of almost all I have written. I shall come to my point shortly.

There is a phrase, there are many ways to skin a cat. There is also a phrase, about peeling the layers of an onion. What surprises me is how this has unraveled, how the onion has been peeled. Let me explain.

Sometime in February 2018 the Nirav Modi – PNB Scam broke. It was apparent almost immediately, that both Nirav and his uncle Mehul had left the country. We did have the “middia”, politicians and talking heads breathing fire and brimstone. Frankly, the size of the scam, the audacity and personalities of the characters involved, had us all fairly shocked. Everybody and his brother wanted to know where Mehul could be. No one had an answer, no one had a clue. It was as if Mehul had simply, magically vanished.

It is only a few days ago, nearly 6 months into the scam that we know that Mehul had an Antiguan Passport. If one believes the narrative that is doing the rounds, no one in India knew of Mehul’s Antiguan Passport or his whereabouts or even what he was doing.

Bullshit, or to use a cruder word, GHANTA!

Has the entire staff working at the Malabar Hill Police station in March 2017 when they pored over the Criminal Antecedents and Information System (CAIS) and issued their clearance been affected by collective amnesia? Why did, or why does no one remember that they issued a Police verification? No one?

Fine, the Malabar Hill Police Station is useless, suffers from a collective memory loss and is staffed with pigeons. How do you explain the silence of our Passport Office that issued the PCC? Surely the man who signed it would remember, unless of course, he has been killed in an Eastern Express crash, or a Mumbai Pune Expressway crash, or run over by a train or felled by a tree or drowned in a pothole, all of which happen with alarming regularity in Mumbai. Have all of the gents who dealt with that request stopped eating “Badaam” which affected their memory?

Why is there such a deafening silence from both these departments? When the whole country was agog with the PNB Scam, no one remembered, no one said yes, we had issued a PCC or yes we did certify that there were no records on the Criminal Antecedents and Information System (CAIS).

The answer is obvious. With the cruel vindictiveness, the victimization and blood lust that we Indians have, these officers would have been jailed, their careers in shambles and families ruined if they ever admitted that, yes, we had issued the PCC. Alas, the layers of the onion have been peeled, albeit in a very different way. I have no doubt in my mind that in March 2017 when the PCC was issued, there was probably nothing against Mehul, so the officers were well within their rights issuing the PCC. But our behavior has ensured their silence.

You know what is much more dangerous? It has been 6 months since the scam broke. These officers both in the Passport Office and Malabar Hill Police Station, in the last 6 months, would have destroyed all evidence that would show how and why they issued the PCC. That is going to be very damaging in the long run. How it will play out, I am unsure, but damaging it is going to be.

I guess that we can draw comfort, if at all it could be comfort, that those gents who have kept mum about their action in March 2017, have not slept a wink since the scam broke.