India welcomes Antiguan PM’s hint on action against Choksi
Choks, who, together with his nephew and fellow diamantaire Nirav Modi, is wanted by New Delhi for the Rs 13,500-crore fraud perpetrated on Punjab National Bank, fled India in January last year.Updated: Jun 25, 2019 23:31 IST
Indications from Antigua and Barbuda that fugitive diamond trader Mehul Choksi could be stripped of the citizenship of that country are being hailed by India as a “positive development” that will pave the way for his extradition, people familiar with the developments said on Tuesday.
Choks, who, together with his nephew and fellow diamantaire Nirav Modi, is wanted by New Delhi for the Rs 13,500-crore fraud perpetrated on Punjab National Bank, fled India in January last year. Months before, he was granted citizenship of the Caribbean nation under the country’s Citizenship by Investment Program (CIP).
Over the weekend, Antiguan Prime Minister Gordon Browne was quoted by Antigua Observer newspaper as saying that his government had made it a priority to ensure intense scrutiny of beneficiaries of CIP. There are a few people who may circumvent the process, but recourse is available, particularly in Choksi’s case, he added.
“This [Browne’s statement] is a positive development as it reflects the close engagement we have had with Antigua and Barbuda on this issue. However, it doesn’t mean that Choksi will be back on the next flight. There is a process, we have made a request and we continue to pursue it with them,” said one of the people cited above, who asked not to be identified.
Brown was quoted as saying by the newspaper: “His [Choksi’s] citizenship was processed; he got through but the reality is his citizenship will be revoked and he will be repatriated to India; so there is recourse. It’s not a case that we are trying to provide any safe harbour for criminals, for those who are involved in financial crimes.”
Antigua and Barbuda will have to allow for due process, he added. “He [Choksi] has a matter before the court and as we said to the Indian government, criminals have fundamental rights too, and Choksi has a right to go to court and defend his position. But I can assure you, after he has exhausted all of his legal options, he will be extradited.”
People familiar with the matter in India said that Antigua and Barbuda is apparently uncomfortable with the attention Choksi’s case has been receiving in the international media. They said the internal legal process for stripping Choksi of his Antiguan citizenship will have to be exhausted before extradition can be taken up.
India and Antigua and Barbuda don’t have a bilateral extradition treaty but experts believe extradition is possible under provisions of Antiguan law.
External affairs minister S Jaishankar declined to comment on Browne’s remarks. “I do not have information on this matter, I would not like to comment on it,” he told reporters.
An individual can gain Antiguan citizenship by investing a minimum of $100,000 in the National Development Fund. Browne said further measures will be implemented in future to overcome the issue of criminals attempting to use the CIP.
Choksi’s lawyer Vijay Aggarwal said a legal challenge had been mounted against the processing of India’s extradition request by Antigua and Barbuda. “There is a process involved in extradition from Antigua. We have challenged vires of Antiguan extradition law in Antigua,” he said.
“Even after that, it [Antigua] being a common law country, the process would be governed by principles of natural justice,” he added.
India has cancelled the passports of Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi in connection with the Punjab National Bank case. Modi was arrested in the UK on March 20 and has been in prison since then, after four bail applications were rejected by a court.
First Published: Jun 25, 2019 23:31 IST