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HomeThe Big StoriesCaricom’s silence on Choksi matter is ‘deafening’ – lawyer

Caricom’s silence on Choksi matter is ‘deafening’ – lawyer

by Gemma Handy

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Caricom’s “deafening silence” on the alleged abduction of fugitive Mehul Choksi from Antigua to Dominica is bringing shame on the region.

Those are the strident words from British lawyer Michael Polak who has blasted the Caribbean body for failing to “stand up against corruption” amid claims its member states colluded in the “kidnap, torture and rendition” of the 62-year-old.

The Indian-born former diamond trader is wanted in his homeland in connection with a US$2 billion fraud against the Punjab National Bank.

India has been seeking to get Choksi extradited from Antigua – where he has held citizenship since 2017 – for more than three years.

Polak claims Indian authorities’ “frustration” with the lengthy extradition process galvanised them to circumvent the law in sync with Caribbean agents.

Choksi was discovered in the nature isle hours after his wife Priti reported him missing from their Jolly Harbour home on May 23. He has since been charged with illegal entry into Dominica – a charge Polak claims was concocted to detain him.

“This farcical situation involves a number of Caricom members and is drawing the world’s attention to the region,” Polak told Observer.

“Yet there has been absolutely no sound from Caricom, nothing said, no general statement of principle, about due process, the rule of law, or about standing up against corruption.

“The silence really is deafening.”

Polak said he had contacted the organisation’s bosses to request a meeting which he was “hopeful” would be arranged.

“One of Caricom’s missions is to create a community where every citizen is secure and has the opportunity to realise his or her potential with guaranteed human rights and social justice,” he continued.

“This falls right within that mission and it would mean a lot for the regional organisation to speak out on this very tawdry affair.

“The whole of the world is now looking towards the region and saying, how can something like this take place with the connivance of Caricom states and this organisation sit there silently?”

The barrister, a director of London-based Justice Abroad, claimed the saga had become “an awful spectacle”.

Regardless of whether Choksi has committed offences in his native land, the issue is about “the rule of law”, Polak said.

“Do the people of the Caribbean want to live in states where, if a powerful government wants them they can simply pluck them without any due process?

“Extradition proceedings exist so courts can test the evidence around an extradition request. To allow a state to use brute force to take someone and to circumvent that procedure means nobody is really safe.”

Choksi is currently on remand in Dominica but being held in hospital where he is being treated for various ailments including a blood clot and hypertension. He is set to be taken to the national prison as soon as he is deemed well enough.

His next court appearance is scheduled for July 6.

Polak also claimed high-ranking Dominican officials played a role in Choksi’s apparent abduction.

 “It’s quite simple. He was kidnapped, he was beaten, he was taken by the Coastguard of Dominica to police, and kept in police custody for three days without access to a lawyer.

“It’s exactly what you would do if you were hoping to whisk someone away without the legal processes taking place,” he added.

“The Indian authorities were frustrated by having to go through the legal processes of Antigua so they used agents to kidnap him.”

Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne previously said he believed it was “unlikely” Choksi had been abducted but that local police were investigating the claims.

Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit had been rather more reticent, pledging to leave the matter in the hands of the courts. But on Sunday night he told media that allegations his government was involved were “absurd”.

Caricom has been approached for comment. No response was forthcoming up to news time.

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