Updated: May 28, 2021 7:35:03 am
A day after fugitive diamond trader Mehul Choksi was arrested in the island nation of Dominica, Gaston Browne, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, said he had requested Dominica to repatriate Choksi to India directly. However, Choksi’s lawyer Vijay Aggarwal said his client was no longer an Indian citizen and, under the existing laws, cannot be repatriated to India. A statement by the Dominican government also indicated that Choksi might be sent back to Antigua.
In an interview to news agency ANI, Browne said, “The Dominican government is cooperating with the Antiguan and Indian governments. We have requested Dominican law enforcement agencies to not return him to Antigua, where he has legal and constitutional rights as a citizen. We specifically requested them to have Indian law enforcement agencies make necessary arrangements to have him returned directly to India.”
Dominica’s Ministry of National Security and Home Affairs issued a statement saying Choksi had been detained for “illegal entry”, and that it was in touch with Antigua and Barbuda authorities to ascertain Choksi’s citizenship status. “Once the information is provided by Antigua authorities, possible arrangements will be made for Mr Mehul Choksi to be repatriated to Antigua,” said the statement.
Wayne Marsh, Choksi’s attorney in Dominica, said the businessman told him he had been abducted by “an Indian and Antiguan” police officer on May 23 while on his way to a restaurant for dinner. Choksi claimed he was masked and put on a yacht bearing a Dominican flag and taken to the southern tip of the island nation where he was kept till he was arrested by the local police on May 26, Marsh said, adding that when he met the businessman, he had a swollen eye and several bruises.
Accused of defrauding the public-sector Punjab National Bank (PNB) of almost Rs 13,600 crore, Choksi has been out of India since January 7, 2018, days before the PNB scam came to light. On January 15, 2018, he took the oath of citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda.
On Sunday, he was reported missing in Antigua and Barbuda. The next day, Choksi was caught by the local police of Dominica, reportedly when he arrived on a boat.
Sources said the Indian government was looking into the circumstances leading to Choksi’s arrest and examining the options it has to bring him back, and was in touch with the Antigua and Barbuda and Dominican governments. “The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) will have to examine the extradition rules, deportation laws and the diplomacy issues to see how Choksi can be brought to India. Also it is up to Dominica to decide as per their laws, where to repatriate Choksi ,” an official said.
“Our interest in getting fugitives like Choksi and others remains strong,” said a source.
Choksi’s lawyer Aggarwal said their legal team had filed a habeas corpus petition in Dominica for Choksi, citing “deprivation of access” and “legal assistance” to him. Aggarwal said, “There should be no speculation till one finds out from Mehul Choksi how he landed up in Dominica. My understanding is that his reaching Dominica was not voluntary. So I find something fishy that nobody seems to be looking into how exactly he reached Dominica,” he said in a statement Thursday. He added that Choksi could be deported only to Antigua and not India.
“As per the Indian Citizenship Act Section 9, 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. Moreover, there is an Antiguan High Court order restraining processing any request from India… There is no question of his being sent to India,” Aggarwal said.
He also cited universal declaration of human rights, saying “there are international covenants on voluntary repatriation and a person can be deported to only the country of his citizenship”.
with inputs from ENS, Delhi