IN A new twist to the PNB scam case, Antigua Prime Minister Gaston Browne has said that the citizenship granted by his country to one of the accused, fugitive diamond trader Mehul Choksi, can be revoked and that he will be extradited to India.
In comments reported by Antigua Observer, a local daily, Browne said his country will not provide “safe harbour for criminals, for those who are involved in financial crimes”.
“Choksi’s citizenship was processed, he got through. We do have recourse, the reality is that his citizenship will be revoked and he will be deported to India,” the newspaper quoted Browne as saying. Speaking to reporters, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said: “I do not have information on this matter, I would not like to comment on it.”
Sources said Choksi’s citizenship is an internal process of the Antigua government, which has not been conveyed to India as yet. On a possible timeframe for the cancellation of Choksi’s citizenship, Browne said: “We have to allow for due process. He 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.”
Choksi, 59, took Antiguan citizenship after the PNB scam came to light last year and has repeatedly refused to return to India to face investigators in the case, saying he fears “mob lynching”.
Choksi and the other accused in the case, Nirav Modi, and firms linked to them, are accused of routing Rs 13,500 crore worth of fraudulent transactions through state-owned PNB. Both left India in the first week of January 2018. On March 20 this year, Nirav Modi was arrested in the UK and has since been lodged in a London jail.
Browne said the government of Antigua and Barbuda has made it a priority to ensure that individuals who benefit from the country’s Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) undergo intense scrutiny.
To remedy the problem of criminals attempting to sidestep the CIP and use the twin islands as a place of refuge, Browne said further measures and due diligence will be implemented.