Govt investigators sent to get Choksi return from Dominica
A team of government investigators sent to Dominica in a private jet last week to bring back fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi returned to India on Friday after it became clear that legal proceedings in the island’s courts may last several weeks.
Publicly available flight data showed that the jet took off from Douglas-Charles airport in Dominica at 8.09pm local time on Thursday and was heading towards India via Madrid at the time of filing of this report. It is likely to land in New Delhi at 11pm on Friday. The investigators are on the flight, said people familiar with the developments.
“We have a strong deportation case against Mehul Choksi in Dominica but the whole legal process will take time,” said an officer on condition of anonymity.
The team -- comprising two Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officers and representatives from the ministry of external affairs -- was rushed along with a cache of documents on evidence against Choksi in a hired Bombardier Global 5000 jet of Qatar Executive last Friday.
The officers were sent after Choksi, who fled India in 2018, was detained in Dominica on charges of illegally entering the island and Antigua Prime Minister Gaston Browne said the businessman should be deported directly to India.
For about seven days, the jet was parked at the airport to bring back Choksi, who is wanted in a ₹13,500 crore bank fraud case. But the India-born businessman is currently involved in two separate legal proceedings in Dominica, pending which he cannot be repatriated, say experts.
A magistrate’s court in the Dominican capital Roseau is hearing the government’s charge that Choksi entered the country illegally. It will be heard next on June 14.
Last week, Choksi’s lawyers moved the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, alleging that he was abducted and asking him to be sent back to Antigua. That habeas corpus petition was adjourned on Thursday after judge Bernie Stephenson said she will decide the next date of hearing after meeting both sides.
The Indian government felt the team was not required anymore and that foreign ministry officials based in the Caribbean can coordinate the legal formalities with Dominican authorities and the courts, said the people quoted above.
The team, they said, already briefed Dominican authorities about the charges and evidence against Choksi, which will be argued by local government prosecutors on India’s behalf whenever the deportation case is taken up. India is not a party yet in either of the court hearings.
Choksi approached the high court in Dominica seeking bail in “illegal entry” case. The HC has adjourned the matter to Tuesday.
India is pushing for Choksi’s deportation from Dominica directly on the ground that he doesn’t enjoy any constitutional and legal protection there and has an Interpol red notice against him.
His legal team approached the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court last week, alleging that he was abducted from Antigua, where he is a citizen, on May 23, tortured and brought to Dominica, roughly 100 nautical miles away.
A person with knowledge of developments said three Indian officials and a lawyer, who appeared to have been hired by India, attended Choksi’s bail hearing in the magistrate’s court on Thursday.
The whole episode has already taken a political colour in the region, with opposition parties in both countries – Antigua & Barbuda as well as Dominica targeting the respective prime ministers for violating the law of the land.
Browne has repeatedly said he will not accept Choksi back and that Dominica should send him back to India. Dominica, however, has not made it clear if it is keen to send Choksi directly to India.
India said on Thursday that it was making all efforts to bring back the fugitive. “He (Choksi) is currently in the custody of Dominica with some legal proceedings underway. We will continue to make all efforts to ensure he is brought to back India,” foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi told reporters.