Choksi ‘unlawfully renditioned’ to Dominica so he couldn’t appeal in UK: Lawyer
Indian fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi was “unlawfully renditioned” from Antigua and Barbuda to Dominica so he would no longer have the option of appealing to the UK Privy Council against efforts to strip him of his Antiguan citizenship, a British lawyer representing the businessman said on Thursday.
Michael Polak, part of the legal team representing Choksi and an expert in providing legal assistance to foreign nationals around the world, told a virtual news conference that the team has also filed a complaint with the War Crimes Unit of UK’s Metropolitan Police on the ground that Choksi was tortured.
Dominica dropped the London-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as the country’s final court of appeal in 2015. However, citizens of Antigua and Barbuda voted in a constitutional referendum in 2018 to retain the body as their final court of appeal.
Choksi’s lawyers contend he continues to be an Antiguan citizen and can appeal against any move to strip him of his citizenship or to extradite him to India in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Polak said Choksi wouldn’t have access to this legal protection in Dominica.
Polak described Choksi’s case as one of “egregious breach of the rule of law and fundamental fairness”. He said, “What has happened to Mehul Choksi has been terrible. He was lured into a property, kidnapped, a bag placed over his head, beaten, forced on to a boat and unlawfully renditioned into another country.”
“In Antigua, he has the right to appeal to the Privy Council in London to determine whether the government is acting properly...against him. In Dominica, he does not have such protection. The motive behind the kidnapping could not be clearer,” he added.
There was no immediate response from Indian officials to Polak’s comments.
Choksi went missing from Antigua while going for an evening walk on May 23. While the Antiguan premier has repeatedly said Choksi fled to Dominica with his girlfriend, the businessman’s wife Priti Choksi and his lawyers – Wayne Marsh and Vijay Aggarwal – have alleged he was abducted by Antiguan and Indian officials, tortured and taken to Dominica in a boat.
He has been charged for illegal entry in Dominica and is being treated at a hospital there after a court adjourned his case till June 14.
An official complaint filed by Choksi with police in Antigua stated that after he reached Dominica, he was told by his abductors that he was brought there to meet an “Indian politician”. Choksi has named Barbara Jarabica, Narender Singh, Gurmit Singh and “unknown persons” as his abductors.
A complaint filed by Polak with the UK Metropolitan Police contends that Choksi’s case should be investigated by the War Crimes Unit as it involves torture. Polak said that under Section 134 of the UK Criminal Justice Act, English courts have jurisdiction over such matters wherever in the world they take place.
“The War Crimes Unit of the Metropolitan Police investigates war crimes, torture and genocide wherever it takes place,” he said, adding the Metropolitan Police and Crown Prosecution Service will have the final say in an investigation.
According to Polak’s complaint filed with the Metropolitan Police on June 7, Choksi was allegedly lured by Barbara Jarabica and then attacked and taken by force by several men to Dominica in a boat. The complaint has also pointed out that Jarabica and three men allegedly involved in the incident – St Kitts and Nevis national Gurdip Bath, Gurmit Singh and Gurjit Singh Bhandal – are all residents of the UK.
Polak told the news conference that Choksi’s case goes beyond the “appalling treatment” meted out to him and represents a “fundamental test for the legal systems of Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica and a political test for Caricom and the Commonwealth on respect for rule of law and individual rights”.
He contended there was sufficient proof that Jarabica and the other men involved in the incident had carried out a “reconnaissance or a failed attempt to kidnap” Choksi in April, and said that Choksi should be returned to Antigua.
Choksi is an accused in a multi-crore scam in India, having allegedly siphoned off nearly ₹7,080 crore in the ₹13,578-crore Punjab National Bank fraud before fleeing to Antigua in January 2018. He then acquired Antiguan citizenship under the controversial Citizenship by Investment Programme.
Asked about Choksi’s alleged role in the scam, Polak replied, “The current case is not about the scams, it’s about due process. We don’t act by kidnapping people, that’s not how things are done.”