In a major development, the Antiguan government has reportedly stated that Indian fugitive businessman Mehul Choksi “will be extradited once he has exhausted all of his legal options”.
Following massive pressure from India, Antigua Prime Minister Gaston Browne has reportedly agreed to revoke the citizenship of Choksi who has been in the Caribbean nation since January 2018.
The Antigua Prime Minister said his country “does not provide safe haven to criminals involved in financial crimes”, adding that Choksi’s citizenship was processed and he got through”.
“But the reality is his citizenship will be revoked and he will be repatriated to India; so there is recourse,” the Antigua PM added.
“Presently the matter is before the court, so we have to allow for due process. We have conveyed to the Indian government that criminals also have fundamental rights and Choksi has a right to go to court to defend his position. But I can assure you after he has exhausted all of his legal options, he will be extradited,” Gaston Browne was quoted by media reports.
Diamantaire Mehul Choksi, a key accused in the multi-crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam, in a bid to avoid extradition to India, had earlier this year, surrendered his passport to the Indian High Commission in Antigua. He also reportedly submitted 177 dollars and gave his new address as Jolly Harbour Marks, Antigua.
However, reacting to the development, then Home Minister Rajnath Singh had asserted that the Fugitive Economic Offenders bill passed by the Centre will ensure that all who have fled are brought back to face justice.
The Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018 was signed by President of India in August last year. It defines a “fugitive economic offender” as any individual against whom a warrant for arrest in relation to a Scheduled Offence has been issued by any Court in India, who has left India so as to avoid criminal prosecution or being abroad, refuses to return to India to face criminal prosecution.
Vijay Mallya had in January this year become the first tycoon to be named an economic offender under the new law after a special PMLA court declared him so.
Choksi took Antiguan citizenship in November 2017 through the Caribbean island nation’s Citizenship by Investment programme. The information about his new citizenship came to light only in July 2018 after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) sent a notice to Antiguan authorities regarding Choksi’s criminal status that was sent to all foreign countries via the Interpol.
India and Antigua do not have a bilateral extradition pact but the government has been trying to bring back the diamond billionaire from Antigua under a law of the island nation that allows it to send back a fugitive to a designated Commonwealth country.
Mehul Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi are being investigated by the ED and the CBI after it was detected that they allegedly cheated Punjab National Bank of more than Rs 13,400 crore with the purported involvement of a few of its employees.
Earlier on Saturday, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had informed a Mumbai court that it was willing to provide an air ambulance with medical experts to bring Mehul Choksi from Antigua to India.