In a setback to fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi, the Antigua government has clarified that it will “honour any legitimate request” to extradite him, according to a report in Antigua’s The Daily Observer newspaper.

Last week, it came to light that Choksi had acquired citizenship of the archetypal Caribbean island nation even before the USD 2 billion Punjab National Bank fraud was unearthed.

On 27 July, Antigua’s The Daily Observer quoted a cabinet press briefing issued by the Chief of Staff, Lionel “Max” Hurst to state that Antigua and Barbuda government would make every effort as per law to honour a “legitimate” request from India.

Talking to reporters, Foreign Minister EP Chet Greene said his government had not received any request from Indian government for access to the fugitive billionaire.

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“However, if a request is received, we will honour any legitimate request made of us notwithstanding that we do not have any extradition agreements with India,” he said adding that, “that is the extent of our commitment to preserving the integrity of our (Citizenship by Investment) programme.”

The issue of Choksi, a fugitive from India involved in an alleged banking scam worth over USD 2 billion, getting citizenship in Antigua in November last year was discussed in a Cabinet meeting of Antigua and Barbuda government, the newspaper said.

A CBI request, India’s nodal agency for Interpol matters, to issue a Red Corner Notice against Choksi is pending with the international police organisation and is likely to be granted soon.

The Cabinet underlined that they do not have extradition treaty with India and that Choksi has not been charged for any crime.

The paper also stated that the Cabinet noted that no request has been received by the Antigua and Barbuda government for any action against Choksi.

The Citizenship by Investment unit of Antigua faced criticism from the paper for allowing Choksi to get passport of Antigua in November last year. The unit had informed the paper that Choksi’s request was allowed after “due diligence” and detailed background check from Interpol.

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The CBI has denied that Interpol ever approached it regarding background checks on Choksi, who was facing inquiries from various agencies last year.

In an editorial, the paper said, There is a perception that the CIU’s due diligence is a farce and that CIP money trumps due diligence. This is a perception that cannot be allowed to linger because it will have damaging effects on our country’s reputation. The government must produce all the documentary evidence of the due diligence process so that the citizens of this country can have confidence that there is integrity to the process,             It also noted that India is a friendly country, an “ally”, and that it had helped Antigua in past on several occasions and it was a time to reciprocate.

Beyond that, India is an ally. They have provided assistance to us in the past, and they have been tapped to provide assistance in the future. Most recently (as in April of this year), we sought their technical assistance in the areas of health and the management of public finance. Will we now turn our backs on them and give safe harbour to a fugitive from their justice system?, an editorial in the paper said.

Nirav Modi and Choksi are being investigated by the ED and the CBI after it was detected that they allegedly cheated the Punjab National Bank of more than Rs 13,400 crore with purported involvement of a few of the lender’s employees.

The scam, which reportedly began in 2011, was detected in January this year, after which PNB officials reported it to the probe agencies.

(With agency inputs)