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PNB fraud: ED files chargesheet against Mehul Choksi's wife, others

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Mumbai, Jun 06: The ED has filed a fresh chargesheet against absconding jeweller Mehul Choksi, his wife Priti and others under the anti-money laundering law in connection with the over Rs 13,000-crore PNB loan fraud case, officials said on Monday.

Mehul Choksi

This is the first prosecution complaint filed by the federal agency against Choksi's wife Priti Pradyotkumar Kothari.

She has been charged by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) with "helping her husband in layering of the proceeds of crime".

The chargesheet, filed under criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), was placed before a special court in Mumbai in March and the court has taken its cognisance on Monday, the officials said.

Apart from the couple, the agency has named Choksi's three companies - Gitanjali Gems Ltd, Gili India Ltd and Nakshatra Brand Ltd - and retired Punjab National Bank deputy manager (Brady House branch, Mumbai) Gokulnath Shetty in the chargesheet.

This is the third chargesheet against Choksi after the ED field the first two in 2018 and 2020.

It is understood that the agency will seek the extradition of Choksi's wife from Antigua, where the couple are based right now, and may also get notified a Interpol arrest warrant against her on the strength of this chargesheet.

Choksi has been staying in Antigua since 2018 after leaving India.

The ED alleged that Priti was "hand-in-glove with her husband Mehul Choksi in getting companies incorporated for him for laundering and siphoning of proceeds of crime and utilising and projecting them as untainted".

"She was aware of the source of monies which were being routed/siphoned by her husband illegally and fraudulently. She was abettor of the crime thereby being actually involved in the laundering of proceeds of crime...," the ED alleged.

It said Priti was the "ultimate beneficial owner" of three UAE-based company called Hillingdon Holdings Ltd, Chating Cross Holdings Ltd and Colindale Holdings Ltd.

Choksi, prime accused in this case along with his nephew Nirav Modi and others, is now based in Antigua after he took citizenship of that country.

He had gone missing from that country on May 23 last year and later, surfaced in neighbouring Dominica the next day.

Dominica had then caught Choksi on the ground of illegal entry into their country but it recently dropped these charges against him.

Nirav Modi is in a London prison after he was held by the authorities there in 2019 on the basis of a legal request made by the ED and the CBI in this case. He is contesting extradition to India.

Choksi, Modi and their family members and employees, bank officials and others were booked by the ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 2018 for perpetrating the alleged fraud in the Brady House branch of the PNB in Mumbai.

It was alleged that Choksi, his firm Gitanjali Gems and others "committed the offence of cheating against Punjab National Bank in connivance with certain bank officials by fraudulently getting the LOUs (letters of undertaking) issued and got the FLCs (foreign letter of credit) enhanced without following prescribed procedure and caused a wrongful loss to the bank".

The ED said its probe found that "PNB bank officials in connivance with Choksi, Gitanjali Gems and others originally issued FLCs for smaller amount within the sanctioned limit and once FLC number was generated, the same number was used for amendment by way of enhancement of FLC and increase in the amount and such enhancement of amount was done at 4-5 times higher value of the original FLC amount".

"Such amendments were done outside the CBS system, and hence, it was not captured in the books of bank," the ED had alleged.

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