‘Choksi still Indian citizen’: ED’s likely line of argument in court
India’s Enforcement Directorate will argue in the High Court of Dominica that Choksi remains an Indian citizen, although he has a passport issued by Antigua and Barbuda, is in Dominica illegally, is accused of fraud and money laundering in India, with enough evidence of the same, has an Interpol Red Corner Notice against his name, and that he should therefore be deported to India.
HT learns that ED will present to the court detailed evidence of Choksi’s wrongdoings, where his companies Gitanjali Gems, Giri, and Nakshatra defrauded the Punjab National Bank. India’s Central Bureau of Investigation and ED are investigating the case, which goes back at least a decade, and involves the issue of so-called letters of undertaking to Choksi’s companies, which he used, along with a clutch of shell entities registered in countries such as Hong Kong, which has emerged as one of the epicenters of his web, to divert money overseas. Investigations have traced at least $500 million of such diversions from HK, HT learns.
Choksi’s nephew Nirav Modi was his partner in this operation. While Choksi fled India for Antigua and Barbuda, Modi fled to London, where legal extradition proceedings against him are continuing, with India winning many of the initial battles.
But the key part of ED’s argument, HT learns, will be that while Choksi surrendered his Indian passport in September 2018 in Georgetown Guyana, this was not accepted and the surrender documents were not signed by the prescribed authority. ED will argue, citing Rule 23 of India’s Citizenship Act, that the prescribed authority in this case is the ministry of home affairs.
“It is ludicrous, as even a first-year law student knows that as per Section 9 of the Citizenship Act, a person ceases to be an Indian citizen the moment he acquires citizenship of any other country. We are talking of citizenship, not some ration card which can be asked to be returned,” said Vijay Aggarwal, Choksi’s lawyer.
Antigua and Barbuda is unlikely to make a case for deporting Choksi back to the country — the country’s government is fighting two cases against the fugitive in the courts, including one over the revocation of his citizenship.
A central government official confirmed that Choksi’s Indian citizenship was not cancelled. The move of Choksi surrendering his Indian citizenship was never accepted, the official said on condition of anonymity.