Explained: As Dominican top court hears Choksi’s extradition case, India faces legal issues in bringing fugitive home
The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court is set to hear fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi's extradition case on Wednesday. The jeweller mysteriously disappeared from Antigua and Barbuda, of which he is a citizen, and was arrested from Dominica last week on charges of illegally entering the island. Choksi's lawyer claimed that he did not flee Antigua, but was 'abducted' from the islands and honey-trapped by a woman.
Choksi faces multiple charges of embezzling funds from the Punjab National Bank (PNB) in India to the tune of ₹13,500 crore. He had acquired citizenship of Antigua under its Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) in November 2017, weeks before investigations by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the PNB scam started.
After he was arrested, India, which has no extradition arrangements with Dominica, sent a team of eight officials to the Caribbean country in an attempt to bring him back to the country. The Eastern Caribbean SC stayed the businessman's movement out of the country based on his lawyers’ appeal, and scheduled the hearing for Wednesday.
A team of four seasoned lawyers from London that would represent Choksi in the court to prevent his deportation in court alleged that the businessman was honey-trapped by a woman he had known for six months and was abducted from her house, where she had called him for a meeting, by a group of men and taken on a yacht to Dominica. The legal team also claims that Choksi is not an Indian citizen anymore and has surrendered his Indian passport.
An official familiar with the developments told HT that Choksi’s Indian citizenship had not been cancelled yet, even after he acquired Antigua's, and this could help India's case as it seeks his deportation from Dominica. India has not issued a certificate of surrender of passport to Choksi yet. However, India does not allow dual citizenship. According to Section 9 of the Indian Citizenship Act, 1955, after Choksi was granted the citizenship of Antigua, he ceased to be an Indian citizen.
“Any citizen of India who by naturalisation, registration, otherwise voluntarily acquires, or has at any time between the 26th January, 1950 and the commencement of this Act, voluntarily acquired the citizenship of another country shall, upon such acquisition or, as the case may be, such commencement, cease to be a citizen of India,” Section 9 says.
However, the Interpol has issued a Red Notice against Choksi for financial crimes committed in India, and this could help India's case. For this to work, India would need to convince the Dominican court that he is a fugitive and the country has a strong legal case against him.
"As per Interpol Red Corner Notice, Dominica can deport Mehul Choksi at any time as he has no legal rights there. But, If Dominican court found that Choksi was kidnapped and forcibly taken to Dominica, he'd be deported to Antigua as his country of origin," former CBI director AP Singh told news agency ANI.