Mehul Choksi a crook, will be extradited: Antigua PM
Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne described fugitive diamond trader Mehul Choksi as a “crook” who “really brings no value” to the country, and indicated that he would be extradited after he has exhausted the process of appeals.
Browne, however, said Choksi was given citizenship of Antigua & Barbuda after he was “cleared by Indian officials”, and placed the blame for it squarely on “flawed information”.
“You know we had the unfortunate situation where he was cleared by Indian officials as a person of good standing,” Browne told news agency ANI in New York. “As to what exactly happened in India and the fact that we got flawed information, the Indian officials have to take responsibility for that situation,” he said.
Browne further said: “However, I can say to you that we are not interested in having Mehul Choksi in Antigua and Barbuda, he really brings no value to the country.”
He added, “In any case our officials acted based on information from India and made him a citizen, only to be told subsequently that he’s a crook.”
There was no immediate response from Indian officials. However, India has noted in the past that a move by Antigua and Barbuda to strip Choksi of his citizenship is a “positive development” as it will pave the way for his extradition.
Browne said no decision could be made on Choksi’s extradition till he had exhausted the process of appeals.
“Now what I can assure you is that ultimately he will be deported after he would have exhausted all of his appeals, or he would be repatriated... or extradited back to India to face whatever charges you have against him. So it’s just a matter of time,” he said.
Browne also said Indian officials had the right to come to Antigua and Barbuda to interview Choksi. “In fact, there are several officials who would have visited Antigua and Barbuda already on the issue,” he added.
Noting that India and Antigua and Barbuda have visa-free arrangements for officials and diplomats, he said, “So they can come and if they wish to interview Mr Choksi, that’ll be based on his willingness to participate, it has nothing to do with my government.”
Choksi, wanted by New Delhi for the ~13,500-crore fraud perpetrated on Punjab National Bank, fled India in January last year. Months before, he was granted citizenship of the Caribbean tax haven under the country’s Citizenship by Investment Program (CIP).
India and Antigua and Barbuda do not have a bilateral extradition treaty but experts believe extradition is possible under provisions of Antiguan law.
New Delhi has cancelled the passports of Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi in connection with the PNB case. Modi was arrested in the UK on March 20 and has been in prison since then.
When contacted, Mehul Choksi’s lawyer Vijay Aggarwal said the diamond merchant was entitled to avail of all legal remedies.
“My client Mehul Choksi is a law-abiding citizen. He left India for his medical treatment and at that time there were no CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) or ED (Enforcement Directorate) criminal proceedings pending against him nor was there anything conceived against him. He is not able to travel back to India due to serious health concerns. Every person who is facing any sort of accusations is presumed innocent until a court of law pronounces him guilty. He is entitled to avail of all legal remedies. He shall prove his innocence in due course of time,” Aggarwal said in a statement.