India says will bring Choksi back; Dominican court rejects bail plea
New Delhi: India on Thursday said it was making all efforts to bring back fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi as a court in Dominica denied bail to the businessman and remanded him to police custody for roughly two weeks on charges of illegally entering the island nation.
The developments came on a day the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court adjourned hearing in a habeas corpus petition filed by Choksi’s lawyers and the government of Antigua, where the 62-year-old spent three years as a citizen before he went missing on May 23, reiterated that it favoured deporting the businessman to India.
“He (Choksi) is currently in the custody of Dominica with some legal proceedings underway. We will continue to make all efforts to ensure he is brought to back India,” foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi told reporters.
This is the first time the Indian government has officially commented on the issue since Choksi disappeared from Antigua and was found three days later in Dominica, roughly 100 nautical miles away.
“Let me emphasise that India remains steadfast in its efforts to ensure that fugitives are brought back to India to face justice,” Bagchi added.
India-born Choksi, who is wanted in a R13,500 crore bank fraud case, faces two separate legal proceedings in Dominica. A magistrate’s court in the Dominican capital Roseau is hearing the government’s charge that the businessman entered the country illegally. And, Choksi’s lawyers have moved the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, alleging that he was abducted and asking him to be sent back to Antigua.
In the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, justice Bernie Stephenson adjourned the matter to allow Choksi’s legal team and Dominican prosecutors to meet and agree on the language to be used in the injunction filed to stop his removal from Dominica, according to local media.
As the hearing was underway, some protesters demonstrated outside court and sought a probe into Choksi’s presence in Dominica.
In the court of magistrate Candia Carrette-George, Dominican state attorney Sherma Dalrymple argued that Choksi entered Dominica illegally at Toucari beach on May 21 -- two days before he was officially reported missing from Antigua -- and was a flight risk.
Dalrymple cited an Interpol notice against him, 11 alleged offences in India, and extradition proceedings in Antigua. She said Choksi had no ties to Dominica, therefore could flee the island if given bail, local media reported.
Choksi’s lawyer, Waye Norde, sought bail and said his client was kidnapped, beaten, and unwillingly brought to Dominica. He said Choksi was not a flight risk given his poor health and added that the Interpol notice and extradition proceeding in Antigua were reasons for Choksi to not leave Dominica.
He asked the magistrate that stringent conditions could be added to the bail and proposed a sum of East Caribbean $10,000, double the maximum penalty for illegal entry. Dalrymple objected to the offer.
Norde cited Section 4 of the bail law and said a defendant was entitled to bail as a right unless the offence was serious. But the court rejected his plea for now and set the next date of hearing on June 14.
Choksi was sent back to the Dominica-China Friendship Hospital, where he was admitted earlier this week. He will be sent to police custody when he is discharged.
The controversy over Choksi’s disappearance and alleged abduction has stirred a political storm in both Antigua and Dominica. On Thursday, the Antiguan cabinet said Choksi will become a “problem” if he was sent back to the island, where he has citizenship protections.
“Choksi has become Dominica’s problem at this time. If he finds himself in Antigua, the problem reverts to Antigua and Barbuda. The preference of the cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda is for Choksi to be repatriated to India from Dominica,” an Antiguan cabinet note stated.
Meanwhile, four days after Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne claimed Choksi left the island with his girlfriend, the Antiguan information minister Melford Nicholas on Thursday refused to divulge details on the matter. Responding to questions about the identity and nationality of the woman, Nicholas said, “The cabinet has been briefed by the intelligence agencies about the circumstances of departure and removal of Mr Choksi but I am not obliged to disclose the details as it may prejudice the investigations.”