India pushes to get Choksi repatriated from the Caribbean
Government investigators on Thursday pushed to bring back fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi, who was captured in Dominica two days after mysteriously vanishing from Antigua & Barbuda, even as the businessman’s lawyers alleged he was abducted and deportation to India was not legally permitted.
Indian-born Choksi, who fled the country in 2018 after being charged in the ₹13,578 Punjab National Bank cheating case, was apprehended by the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) in the Caribbean island of Dominica on Tuesday night on the basis of an Interpol “yellow notice”. He had gone missing in Antigua on Sunday evening, roughly 101 nautical miles away.
The Indian government was coordinating with both Dominica and Antigua & Barbuda to bring Choksi back, considering he was currently located illegally in a jurisdiction from where he could be repatriated on the basis of the Interpol red notice, people familiar with developments said.
A senior Indian investigator agreed that India now had better chances to bring Choksi back. “We are in touch with authorities in Dominica to get him repatriated to India. He is not a citizen there so he can be deported quickly,” he said on condition of anonymity.
In Antigua, PM Gaston Browne told reporters that Choksi should be declared persona non grata and sent to India instead of Antigua & Barbuda, where he has legal and constitution protection as a citizen.
“We asked them (Dominica) not to repatriate him to Antigua. He needs to return to India where he can face the criminal charges levelled against him”, Browne told journalists. Browne added that Choksi had made a monumental error by fleeing to Dominica.
However, acting police chief of Dominica Lincoln Corbette hinted that he may not be sent back to India. “Mehul Choksi is in Dominica only and he will be sent back to Antigua when everything is ascertained,” he said.
A statement issued by Dominica on Thursday also suggested that Choksi may be repatriated to Antigua.
The statement, issued by Dominica’s ministry of national security and home affairs, while calling Choksi as an “Indian citizen”, confirmed he has been detained by law enforcement for illegal entry into Dominica. It said the ministry was in communication with the authorities of Antigua & Barbuda to ascertain some facts “including the status of his Antiguan citizenship”.
“Once the information is provided by the Antigua authorities, possible arrangements will be made for Mr Mehul Choksi to be repatriated to Antigua,” the statement added.
Choksi’s lawyers contended that repatriation to India may be legally complicated, especially because India doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Dominica and Choksi currently holds Antiguan citizenship.
His lawyer in Dominica – Wayne Marsh – alleged on local radio that the 62-year-old businessman was abducted at Jolly Harbour in Antigua and brought to Dominica by police officers from India and Dominica on Sunday itself. He further alleged that Choksi was tortured and kept like a prisoner.
“We were denied access to Mr Choksi yesterday. Luckily, this morning, I met him and noticed that he was severely beaten, his eyes were swollen, and he had several marks… apparently he was burnt by some electrical device. He reports to me that he was abducted at Jolly Harbour and brought to Dominica, by persons who he believes to be Indian and Antiguan police in a vessel which he describes to be 60 to 70 feet…,” Marsh said to a local FM channel in Roseau.
“Mr Choksi is entitled to legal representation, whether he is in Antigua or in Dominica. The facts are that Mr Choksi is an Antiguan citizen. He is not an Indian citizen,” he added.
Choksi’s lawyer in New Delhi Vijay Aggarwal said they had filed a habeas corpus petition in Dominica and also alleged lack of access to the businessman and deprivation of constitutional rights to legal assistance.
“My understanding is that his reaching Dominica is not voluntary. So, I find something fishy that nobody seems to be at the moment looking into the fact that how exactly he reached Dominica,” he said.
Citing Section 9 of the Indian Citizenship Act, Aggarwal said Choksi could only be deported to Antigua. “The moment Mehul Choksi acquired the citizenship of Antigua, he ceased to be a citizen of India. Hence legally as per the Immigration and Passport Act, Section 17 and 23, he can be deported only to Antigua,” Aggarwal said in a statement.
India has cordial relations with the Commonwealth of Dominica, which has population of around 72,000.
As part of the Vaccine Maitri initiative, India donated 35,000 doses to Dominica in February this year. India exports mainly pharmaceutical products, ready-made garments, textiles and home furnishings, and food products to Dominica, while the latter exports mainly scrap metals. Bilateral trade between India and Dominica during 2017-18 amounted to US$2.38 million.
The Indian government also provided financial support of US$ 1 lakh as immediate relief and granted US$ 1 million for infrastructure reconstruction in Dominica under the India UNDP Fund in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
On several occasions in the past, the Antiguan government has said that it was ready to extradite Choksi to India, for which the process is already on. His extradition case as well as revocation of citizenship by Antigua is currently being pursued in a court there, which he has challenged.
Choksi, who sought refuge in Antigua after allegedly cheating PNB of ₹13,578 crore along with his nephew Nirav Modi, and fleeing India in 2018, left his home on Sunday to go for dinner at a well-known restaurant in the southern part of the island and was never seen again. His car was found in Jolly Harbour, a popular nightspot in the 280 sq km island with a population of less than 100,000 people