Setback for India as Caribbean court stays Choksi deportation
A Caribbean court restrained Dominican authorities from removing fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi from the island nation until further orders, dealing a temporary setback to India’s efforts to repatriate him and make him stand trial in a ₹13,578 crore fraud case.
Indian-born Choksi mysteriously disappeared from Antigua and Barbuda, whose citizenship he holds, on Sunday night, but was detained by Dominican police on Tuesday night on charges of illegally entering the island. The two islands are roughly 100 nautical miles apart.
His lawyers alleged that Indian and Antiguan officials abducted the businessman but Antigua & Barbuda’s commissioner of police Atlee Patrick Rodney denied the charge on Friday.
“We have no information or indication that Mehul Choksi was forcefully removed from Antigua. Only assertion we are hearing is from the attorney [of Mehul Choksi] and Dominica police is not confirming that story,” Rodney said in a local media interview. “We have no involvement in his movement from Antigua to Dominica, or wherever he left,” he added.
Asked if he had information on how Choksi reached Dominica, Rodney said he received initial reports that the businessman travelled by boat.
Indian officials are in touch with their counterparts in Dominica to make an attempt to bring him back through the deportation route, because India has no extradition arrangements with the Carribean country, people tracking developments said in Delhi. But those efforts suffered a temporary setback after the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court agreed to hear a habeas corpus petition by Choksi’s lawyers, and ordered that he should not be removed from the country until further orders.
Choksi’s legal team has asked the court that he should be released from police custody in Roseau immediately and allowed to stay in a hotel.
Choksi’s lawyers – Wayne Marsh in Dominica and Vijay Aggarwal in New Delhi -- have argued that he is an Antiguan citizen and can be repatriated only there. The hearing was adjourned late on Friday to June 2. Choksi will be quarantined and administered a Covid-19 test, the court ordered.
Antigua’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne told reporters on Thursday that he requested Dominica to declare Choksi persona non grata and send him 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 leveled against him”, Browne told journalists. Browne added that Choksi had made a monumental error by fleeing to Dominica.
Dominica has indicated that he will be sent back to Antigua after ascertaining all the facts. The acting police chief , Lincoln Corbette, said on Thursday that he will be sent to Antigua.