Mehul Choksi: What happens today and what we know so far
The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) will on Wednesday hear the habeas corpus petition filed by Mehul Choksi’s attorneys last week seeking answers from Dominica on the circumstances under which the fugitive reached or was found in the country on May 23. Choksi’s lawyers have alleged the businessman was abducted from Antigua and Barbuda, where he is a citizen, and brought to Dominica in a vessel and then tortured in custody.
People familiar with the matter told HT that the Dominica government and police have filed multiple affidavits in the court, detailing how Choksi was found inside their territory. The court has jurisdiction over six independent states including Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica
India, not a party yet
India is not a party to the ECSC proceedings in the habeas corpus, or writ that seeks to bring a prisoner or other detainee before the court to determine if the person’s imprisonment or detention is lawful. Legal experts said for India to seek Choksi’s deportation directly, a separate plea will have to be filed through Dominican prosecutors. Indian officials have travelled to Dominica to seek his deportation on the grounds that Choksi is still an Indian citizen and he cheated public sector banks of $2 billion and needs to face the courts of India. But the process may take time and it is believed that Choksi may have to stay in Dominica for a few weeks.
What has Dominica said so far
In a statement last week, the country’s interior ministry said it will repatriate Choksi to Antigua once details on his citizenship are ascertained. Dominican authorities have been tight-lipped about any backchannel or diplomatic talks with India.
Vocal Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne
Browne has maintained he will not accept Choksi back in his country. He has spoken about how an Indian plane reached Dominica to get Choksi. On Monday, he said that “Choksi left the island [Antigua] on May 23 with his girlfriend” and in doing so, “made a monumental error”. Browne has denied allegations of Choksi’s lawyers and opposition parties that the fugitive was abducted by the country’s police along with Indian agents. Antigua and Barbuda’s opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) has accused Browne of disregarding the law of the land by saying that Choksi should be sent directly to India because “he enjoys constitutional and legal protection in Antigua”. “The alleged abduction and beating of Mr. Choksi already paints an unflattering picture of the country. Browne’s deliberate attempt to subvert and corrupt the rule of law makes us look even worse,” the UPP said in a statement.
Browne has accused UPP of taking campaign funds from Choksi.
Politics in Dominica
On Tuesday, Dominica’s leader of the opposition, Lennox Linton, in an interview with HT, targeted Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit over the alleged abduction of Choksi. He accused Skerrit of being part of a plot that undermines the protections guaranteed to citizens of the region under the ECSC’s jurisdiction.
Associates Times, a Caribbean news portal, reported on Tuesday that Choksi’s brother, Chetan, flew in from Antwerp to Dominica, Linton and allegedly gave him $200,000 for the election campaign and making statements in the Parliament in favour of the fugitive.
The jet and the Indian silence
Authorities in New Delhi have been silent over reports of a private jet sent last Friday along with a team of 7-8 officials and case files and documents to prove that Choksi is one of the top white-collar criminals wanted in India. India has not also denied allegations that he was abducted by Indian and Antiguan officials.
The mystery woman
Browne said on Monday that Choksi left the country with his girlfriend, who has not been traced since. The media in Antigua reported that the woman had been meeting Choksi for a long time. Choksi’s lawyer, Vijay Aggarwal, said the mystery woman got friendly with the Choksis during her evening walks. He added later on she even invited Choksi to her house. Aggarwal has claimed other members of the alleged abduction team were waiting at her house to pick Choksi.
“They grabbed him, threw him in a yacht, and took him to Dominica. As Mehul Choksi was not carrying his passport and that lady has vanished, this is sufficient to vindicate the stand that he was abducted,” Aggarwal said.
After India applies for Choksi’s deportation, the matter will be heard in the court during which it will be decided whether he should be sent to India or Antigua. A lot will depend on Dominica’s stand and whether it is keen to send him to India.