Chasing Mehul Choksi & Nirav Modi: The Grown-Up Version of Playground Chor Police


Chasing Mehul Choksi & Nirav Modi: The Grown-Up Version of Playground Chor Police

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty


“No wait, count to 100. And don’t open your eyes, that’s cheating.”

It’s a chant we remember from our childhood days, playing chor-police in the building. It’s also what fugitive businessmen Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi told the investigating authorities before fleeing the country.

In the latest iteration of this saga that has gone on longer than a saas-bahu soap and with an equal number of plot twists and turns, we learnt that Nirav Modi is in the UK and might be extradited. A few weeks ago, we got to know that the reason Choksi was able to obtain an Antiguan passport, in 2017, was due to a Mumbai police clearance certificate. What’s baffling is not that Choksi had the certificate – it was given at a time when there were no outstanding cases against him – but that Mumbai police and our authorities have known of this since 2017. Go figure.

But let’s focus on the silver lining here, for a second. Along with our scams and fugitive businessmen – actually, thanks to them – our beloved desi summer vacation game has made it to the global stage.

Every game of chor-police demands two teams. In this case, Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, and Mehul Choksi formed the chor team. The Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate and the cops make up the police team. As children, it always felt edgy, cool, and adventurous to be in the chor team. Quite like an entrepreneur or a venture capitalist, playing a chor required ingenuity, it required audacity, it required “daring”. The cops, by comparison, were the dullards, stuck with the boring task of going after the real smartasses. They were also usually the most clueless of the lot – and eventually, the payoff wasn’t great.

That trend seems to have continued in real life. While the cops struggle with harsh working conditions and meagre salaries, Vijay Mallya is playing with Tipu Sultan’s sword in his UK mansion and Nirav Modi is feasting on cutlery studded with rubies and diamonds.

Some of our fugitives are hiding at their friend’s houses, and we’ve complained to their moms, hoping they would bail out on them.

Once the teams are formed, it is important to establish the rules. Can you hide under the car? Can you climb on trees? Can you flee the country that you owe ₹11,300 crores to? Can you refuse to pay salaries to employees while you enjoy a pint of beer with your Formula 1 team? It is important to have some ground rules so there are no fights later, but regardless of what the rules are, there will always be those three kids who’ll end up breaking them.

Vijay, Mehul, and Nirav were those three kids.

Once the teams are set and rules clear, it is time for the police to close their eyes and count to 100 so the chors can run and hide. The game might involve fraudsters and criminals but integrity is everything. If the police team cheat and watch from the corner of their eyes, there’s no fun in playing the game. The chor must first properly hide so you can then pretend to catch them and make it seem fair.

This role was perfectly played by the police team in India, as auditors, cops and regulatory agencies turned a blind eye and let the chors run amok. They didn’t count to 100, they counted to 100 million with their eyes closed. Nirav Modi headed to Belgium (and now the UK), Vijay Mallya to London, and Mehul Choksi ended up in Antigua. A bit more time and they could’ve even made it to Mars, or a different galaxy. Once they all made their move, one of them loudly shouted “Ready” and it was now time for the police team to hunt them.

In the game of chor-police, the police have traditionally struggled. While chors broke the rules and were having vada pav and Thums-Up at the adda, the police were busy going through the empty garden and parking garages in the building, wondering why they couldn’t find anyone.

It’s a scenario that has been replicated in the real world, as bank employees at lower levels are arrested and the third cousin of the fugitive businessman’s uncle’s maid’s relative has been called into question, while all the top guys still roam free, making appearances at cricket matches and fashion galas.

Some of our fugitives are hiding at their friend’s houses, and we’ve complained to their moms, hoping they would bail out on them. It’s the ultimate card you can play in the game of chor-police. If it doesn’t work out, it will end the same way every game of chor police ended in our childhood: With the police team passionately looking for the chors for a couple of hours, giving up after struggling, and then going home to sulk. When they all meet the following day, the chors mock the police about how they were incompetent and got played by their genius. Much the same way, the fraudsters are mocking the Indian system today and time to catch them is running out.