Supreme Court sets aside HC's order quashing FIR against Mehul Choksi, wife

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Supreme Court has allowed the continuation of investigation against Mehul Choksi and his wife, saying a wrong may be civil wrong, or in a given case be a civil wrong and equally constitute a criminal offence, however, the ingredients of a criminal offence should be satisfied

The Supreme Court has set aside a Gujarat High Court order quashing an FIR lodged against fugitive businessman Mehul Choksi and his wife Priti on charges of criminal breach of trust and cheating for failing to return 24 carat gold bars to the complainant in terms of agreements entered into 2013.

"Suffice it is to observe that the High Court should not have examined and recorded conclusion on the disputed fact to quash the FIR. At this stage, we record that pursuant to the registration of the FIR, the investigation had proceeded," a bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and S V N Bhatti said.

The court also pointed out the High Court in its order passed on September 14, 2016 noted that 17 persons had been examined by the investigating officer and statements under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 had been recorded. The High Court notes that statements under Section 164 of the Code had also been recorded. "But these were not considered," it said.

"Investigation will continue without being influenced by any of the findings or observations made in the impugned judgment or in the present order. We also clarify that while conducting the investigation, the Investigating Officer will keep in mind the rulings of this Court and High Courts interpreting Sections 406, 420, 464 and 465 etc of the IPC," court has further ordered.

Appellant Digvijaysinh Himmatsinh Jadeja contended that the High Court has undertaken a detailed factual examination and evaluation of the matter, though there are disputed questions of facts.

Choksi couple, on their part, had claimed two agreements of July 25, 2013 and August 13, 2013 are not binding on the company Geetanjali Jewellery Retail Limited, which is a subsidiary of Gitanjali Gems Limited. 

Mehul Choksi, a fugitive businessman and owner of Gitanjali group, is reported to be residing in Antigua and Barbuda after having citizenship. Choksi, along with his nephew Nirav Modi, is wanted in the Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam where it is alleged that the Choksi-Modi duo defrauded the bank of more than Rs 14,000 crore. 

The petitioner, however, claimed the agreements are valid and binding. In terms of the agreement of August 13, 2013, the private respondent(s) had agreed to return 24 karat pure gold bars for which the consideration or price stood paid, but were in deposit with GJRL in fiduciary capacity. 

The appellant also referred to documents in the form of confirmation letters, which are signed by Santosh Srivastava as the Managing Director at GJRL and Shivendra Singh, Associate Vice-President (Finance), on behalf of GJRL, as well as the statement of accounts, which again is signed. These documents, it was submitted, confirmed the fiduciary nature of the deposit.

"We should not go into these aspects, as it is a matter to be considered and examined in the investigation. A wrong may be civil wrong, or in a given case be a civil wrong and equally constitute a criminal offence. The ingredients of a criminal offence should be satisfied. We would refrain to make detailed observations in this regard, though we have considered the said notice before passing this order," the bench said.

The appellant also contended assertions and all allegations have to read holistically and not in a pedantic manner. 

He also cited the part of judgment, with specific reference to respondent Priti Mehul Choksi. 

"We believe that these observations are general observations to the effect that a wife/spouse could not be said to be involved vicariously. We would not like to make any comments as it is only upon investigation, that a specific role attributable to respondent – Priti Mehul Choksi, if any, would be ascertained," the bench said.