Mehul Choksi was not allowed to renounce citizenship: India to Dominica court
India has informed the high court of justice in Dominica that Mehul Choksi, wanted in a bank fraud on the state-owned Punjab National Bank worth thousands of crores, was informed in March 2019 that the ministry of home affairs (MHA) had rejected his renunciation of Indian citizenship, and that he did not challenge this refusal.
The argument, cited in a government affidavit filed last week , revolves around one issue that will determine whether or not the court decides to send him to India -- his citizenship. Choksi became a citizen of Antigua & Barbuda in 2016, but that country has been trying to revoke his citizenship (the matter is in the courts).
Citing various legal deficiencies in Choksi’s declaration renouncing his citizenship, the government affidavit said the fact that Choksi never made this request “in person” but sent it directly to the Indian high commission in Georgetown, Guyana, is in contradiction with the rules under the Citizenship Act, 1955. Nor did Choksi present his request in the prescribed format, it added. Finally, section 8 of India’s Citizenship Act says a person ceases to be a citizen of India only after registration of his/her declaration by the prescribed authority, which is the home ministry in this case, the affidavit said.
That India would use this line of argument before the Dominican court was first reported by HT on May 30.
HT has reviewed the affidavit, filed by the ministry of external affairs consular officer Azad Singh, which seeks to “declare Choksi as an Indian citizen” and “deport him to India”.
Choksi, 62, went missing from Antigua on May 23 but his family and lawyers have alleged he was abducted and taken to Dominica. Dominica has charged him with illegal entry. The magistrate’s court in Roseau on Monday adjourned the hearing to June 25. .
HT reported on Saturday that the Indian government filed two affidavits in the Dominican court detailing serious fraud charges against Choksi and proof that he continues to be an Indian citizen. In the other affidavit, filed by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) deputy inspector general Sharda Raut, said Choksi was the main beneficiary of the fraud on Punjab National Bank and had not co-operated in the investigation, which revealed he laundered the money through a web of shell companies.
Choksi submitted an application to the Indian mission in Georgetown, Guyana, on December 14, 2018, renouncing his Indian citizenship after acquiring Antigua & Barbuda’s citizenship on November 16, 2017.
“After his application was submitted, the matter was examined at different levels within the government of India. On January 29, 2019, the ministry of home affairs found various deficiencies in the declaration provided, and also noted that Choksi was an economic offender, and thus advised the consular officer in the Indian mission in Georgetown to consider rejection of his declaration of renunciation,” the affidavit said.
A communication to this effect was sent to Choksi on March 15, 2019.
Citing Rule 23 of the Citizenship Act, the affidavit said, “declaration should be made in prescribed form XXII” for renunciation of citizenship and acknowledgement “should be issued in form XXIII”, which was not done. In fact, it was never acknowledged by the concerned officer as it was sent through post.
“Mehul Choksi has not brought proceedings in India to challenge this rejection. Therefore, he continues to be a citizen of India under the provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955,” the affidavit stated.
Ministry of external affairs (MEA) has also contested the argument of Choksi’s lawyer Vijay Aggarwal, who has stated that “a person automatically ceases to be citizen in India if he acquires citizenship of another country, according to section 9 of the Citizenship Act”.
The government’s argument is that Choksi obtained Antigua’s citizenship “fraudulently”, a concern already raised with the island’s government; hence the claim under section 9 cannot be maintained.
Terming Choksi’s claim erroneous, the affidavit added: “It is pertinent to mention here that authority to determine citizenship of another country – whether when or how citizenship was acquired – is Central government under rule 40 of the Citizenship Rules of 2009.”
Choksi’s lawyer Vijay Aggarwal said, “Firstly, in bail proceedings the question for determination is not citizenship. So this affidavit is uncalled for. Moreover, as per section 9, subsection 1 of the Citizenship Act, Mr Mehul Choksi is not a citizen of India and the reliance in the affidavit on various rules is fractured understanding of law.”