Dominica court relief may delay Choksi extradition, say officials
Indian government officials fear that fugitive businessman Mehul Choksi’s success in persuading a Dominican court to allow him to return to Antigua and Barbuda, whose citizenship he holds, for medical treatment could delay his extradition by years, people familiar with the matter said.
“This was a golden opportunity for us. Once he is in Antigua, he may never return to Dominica,” said a senior officer of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the federal agency that is investigating the ₹13,578 crore bank fraud that Choksi, and his nephew Nirav Modi, are accused of having pulled off before fleeing the country in 2018.
Dominica’s high court of justice on Monday accepted Choksi’s request to let him travel to Antigua for medical treatment on the condition that he returns to Dominica once he is fit to travel.
Indian officials had hoped to convince the Dominican judge to deport Choksi to India, insisting that he is still an Indian citizen since his request to renounce his citizenship was rejected. The ministry of home affairs (MHA) didn’t comment on the matter.
But Indian officials fear the diamantaire could try to “make sure he is never declared fit”. That Choksi was able to spend one-and-a-half months in a hospital in Roseau rather than prison seems to reflect the influence that he was able to wield in Dominica, the officer cited above said.
Choksi faces charges of illegal entry in Dominica, the Caribbean nation where he mysteriously turned up on May 24/25 after going missing 200km away in Antigua a day earlier. India rushed a team to Dominica to seek Choksi’s deportation where he is an illegal immigrant in contrast to Antigua, where he enjoys constitutional and legal protection by virtue of being a citizen, although the country’s government is engaged in a legal battle to revoke his citizenship.
The high court order, a government official added, serves Dominica’s interests too, particularly given that his arrival sparked a political firestorm with the country’s lead opposition party accusing the governments of Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda and India, of colluding to abduct the businessman to bring him to New Delhi.
To be sure, the three governments have repeatedly trashed the allegation.
“By agreeing to his bail and signing the consent order for his travel to Antigua on Monday, Dominica has sent a message that – ‘let him (Choksi) be Antigua’s problem, not ours,” this person added.
In Antigua, Choksi is fighting two cases relating to extradition and revocation of citizenship. If he is eventually ordered to be extradited, he can still appeal in Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) , the court of final appeal for the UK overseas territories and Crown dependencies.
Lionel Hurst, chief of staff for Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne, said in March this year that legal proceedings may go on till 2027. Choksi’s lawyer Vijay Aggarwal said bringing his client (to India) will take years.That’s because the courts will first have to rule on petitions challenging the country’s extradition and the citizenship law before they can start hearing Choksi’s case, he explained.