Hungarian woman linked to kidnapping of Mehul Choksi arrested in Abu Dhabi: reports

The diamantaire Choksi has been wanted for questioning in India since February 2018.

Published : Feb 22, 2023 17:51 IST

Mehul Choksi

Mehul Choksi | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

On February 21 night Indian time, the Antigua Observer newspaper reported: “The woman named in the kidnapping of Indian-born diamond dealer Mehul Choksi has reportedly been arrested in Abu Dhabi, sources close to the matter have confirmed.”

“According to reports,” the piece went on to say, “Barbara Jarabik (reportedly a Hungarian national resident in London) was arrested following a red corner notice issued by Antigua and Barbuda, as investigations into the kidnapping of Choksi continue.”

Furthermore, the article stated that Jarabik “is wanted for questioning in relation to the mysterious disappearance of Choksi who vanished from Jolly Harbour (in Antigua) on May 23, 2021, and was later found in neighbouring Dominica.”

The post appears to have been blocked in India. A private investigator in India indicated that clicking on the link or the newspaper’s website resulted in a ‘Access Denied’ response.

A little over a month ago, the Antigua and Barbuda police went on record to state that “Red Notices were approved (by a magistrate of the islands Conliffe Clarke) and issued (by Interpol).”

At the same briefing, Commissioner of Police Atlee Rodney denied any collusion between his force and Choksi, as suggested in a blog circulated by an Indian news agency and published by a section of the Indian news media.

Reacting angrily to the blog written by a Kenneth Rijock, Rodney said: “The entire blog is false with inadequate and no research of the facts and has a malicious purpose and ought not to have been posted.”

Wanted in India

Choksi, accused of defrauding Punjab National Bank of Rs.13,000 crore, has been wanted for questioning in India since February 2018. The diamond merchant denies the charge and claims that his companies have never defaulted on any facilities from the bank.

In May 2021, Choksi complained that he was beaten up, blindfolded, and ferried on a boat from Antigua to Dominica against his will. Following an investigation into the matter, the Antigua and Barbuda police, in an interim report in June 2021, upheld this claim prima facie. The Dominican judiciary also accepted this version of events and granted Choksi leave to return to Antigua.

Choksi maintains that he was lured into Jarabik’s flat in Antigua, where around eight people pounced on him. He was thereafter taken by two UK-based men of Indian descent to Dominica, where the Dominican police secretly kept him in captivity.

ALSO READ: The law and an outlaw: the hunt for Mehul Choksi

Indian law-enforcement officers arrived on a leased Qatar Airways executive jet to quietly whisk him away to India. But their attempts were dramatically thwarted by a Dominican radio presenter, Loftus Durand, broadcasting news of Choksi’s unlawful detention, which triggered court intervention. This information had been leaked to Durand by a conscience-stricken police officer.

It is unclear as to whether Jarabik has been transported to Antigua for interrogation. Unconfirmed reports suggest the Antigua and Barbuda police may have sought assistance from the British National Crime Agency (NCA) to facilitate the journey.

When asked to respond, the NCA remained silent. Its spokesperson Kerri Fitzpatrick earlier stated: “The NCA does not routinely confirm or deny the existence of investigations.”

A worrying development for Indian authorities

Interpol’s cooperation with Antigua and Barbuda police is a worrying new development for the Narendra Modi government, which is already besieged by the Congress party’s successful Bharat Jodo Yatra, a BBC TV documentary on Modi, and the Adani Group affair.

Mehul Choksi is assisted by the police into a wheelchair as he arrives at the magistrate’s court in Roseau, Dominica, on June 4, 2021.

Mehul Choksi is assisted by the police into a wheelchair as he arrives at the magistrate’s court in Roseau, Dominica, on June 4, 2021. | Photo Credit: Clyde Jno Baptiste/AP

Modi’s former friend ‘Mehul bhai’ may not go down without a fight. In trying to bring to justice the gang that ill-treated him, he could open a can of worms, especially if the case moves to Britain and the NCA prosecutes the suspects. Such a move would likely lead to the gang being asked as to who was behind the expensive operation to rendition Choksi to India from Dominica.

A spokesman for Choksi commented: “We are pleased to see that the Antiguan Police have begun to implement the recommendations of their initial report in June 2021, and are optimistic that this is a step towards those responsible for the kidnapping of Mr Choksi being brought to justice.”

Choksi’s plea

In June last year, Choksi approached the high court of Antigua and Barbuda for greater urgency in dealing with his kidnapping and torture, naming the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Police of Antigua and Barbuda as respondents.

The petition said: “The Applicant is entitled to a speedy and effective investigation as to the circumstances of the Applicant’s forcible abduction and removal from the jurisdiction of Antigua and Barbuda on or around 23 May 2021, and that the Second Respondent be directed to take effective action in accordance with the directions of the Court and to report to the Court without any further delay.”

Choksi pleaded that “the first Respondent and/or Second Respondent has failed to conduct a speedy and effective investigation into the circumstances of the Applicant’s forcible abduction and removal from the jurisdiction of Antigua and Barbuda on or around 23 May 2021.”

Choksi also submitted that “an independent judicial inquiry” be established to unearth the truth and take appropriate relief measures.

Meanwhile in Dominica, the leader of opposition Lennox Linton petitioned the country’s President Charles Savarin for a “Public Inquiry into alleged criminal misconduct of Cabinet Ministers and other officers of the State.”

He alleged: “It is clear that the (Prime Minister) Roosevelt Skerrit regime colluded with agents of the ruling party of India to have Mehul Choksi kidnapped in Antigua and Barbuda (where he resided and was before the court on an extradition charge) and smuggle him into Dominica from where he would be flown to India… the aircraft to fly him to India, Bombardier Global 5000 jet of Qatar Executive airlines, arrived in Dominica with agents of the government of India.”

Linton cited the Antigua and Barbuda police’s preliminary findings, which named, in addition to Jarabik, a male diplomat of St Kitts and Nevis of Indian origin, two Birmingham-based men of Indian extraction, and a Briton. All are either British nationals or residents of Britain.

He concluded: “The evidence is clear that the law enforcement authorities in Dominica acted under the direction and control of the Dominica Cabinet of Ministers that placed itself under the influence of India’s Governing Party.”

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs was asked for a response. It has failed to comment.

London-based Ashis Ray has been a foreign correspondent for 45 years, working mainly for BBC and CNN, where he was editor-at-large. He has also been an academic visitor at St Antony’s College, Oxford.

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