The Citizenship By Investment Unit (CIU) sought to clear the air and defend the unit against any criticism that it did anything less than extensive vetting in the Mehul Choksi matter. According to the recent release, the unit is releasing “…. facts regarding the Mehul Choksi matter in an effort to provide clarity and address misinformation that has been circulating in the public domain.”
The first matter addressed was the timing of the application and the receipt of a police clearance certificate. The unit reveals that Choksi applied in May 2017 and the Times Of India reports that “Officials at the Malabar Hill Police Station, under whose limits he lived, submitted ‘a clear report’ on March 10, 2017, stating that no criminal antecedents were found.” At a blush, that is good news for the CIU since it seems to confirm that Choksi was given the all clear in March 2017 and may have used that report in support of his application. We are not familiar with CIP processing, so maybe someone can confirm whether a pre-existing clearance is acceptable within a particular timeframe, or whether a report must be obtained at or after the date of application.
The CIU statement also states that the “… police clearance certificate from the government of India, Ministry of External Affairs Regional Passport Office, Mumbai, certified that there was no adverse information against Mr. Mehul Chinubbhai Choksi which would render him ineligible for grant of travel facilities including visa for Antigua and Barbuda.” If we were to guess, if Choksi did not use the police report directly, the ministry likely relied on the March 2017 report to give Choksi the thumbs-up and that was communicated to the CIU. Looking good so far.
The CIU then lists all the various sources that they comb and query for information which included references to INTERPOL and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). Unlike the police background check, where we were able to get some kind of independent confirmation through the media or our contacts, we do not have that luxury (as yet) with the INTERPOL request. The CIU said that “It was also observed that a 2016 Non-bailable Warrant was discontinued in October 2016.” which contradicts the initial reported response by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in India which claimed that “no information regarding background check on Choski was sought from it by the international agency last year.” Further, “The INTERPOL has not sought any information related to Choksi from the CBI in the last three four years,” and if they had, the non-bailable warrant would have been shared.
That said, the “facts” support the CIU more than they support the CBI in India since Choksi was given a clean police report by the Malabar Hill police station “after the antecedents were checked with the criminal antecedents and information system (CAIS).” We hope that the government will produce the request to INTERPOL and the response so that we can clear this situation up.
Where things get murky is with the SEBI. According to the release “the CIU received documentation of two instances in which the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), in 2014 and 2017, opened investigations on a corporate entity owned by Mr. Choksi. We requested updates on the status of the investigations and received documentary confirmation, issued by the SEBI stating that in one case, the matter had been satisfactorily closed, and indicating in the other that there is not sufficient evidence to pursue the matter further.” Things were looking so good but the Exchange Board of India has immediately and strongly refuted those claims stating “SEBI has neither received any request from the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) of Antigua for updates on any investigation nor provided any such information to CIU.”
Much like the INTERPOL requests, it would be to the CIU’s advantage if they released the SEBI requests and responses to the public for scrutiny. Antigua and Barbuda has taken a massive punch to the face for Mr. Choksi and the swelling around that black eye is growing. If it can be revealed through documentation that the due diligence process failures existed elsewhere, maybe a small fraction of the damage can be reversed. Just saying this or that is not enough. There is no hope that we will be vindicated unless we can provide documentary evidence that Antigua and Barbuda acted with probity and judiciously in granting the citizenship. If we are unwilling to do that, then the finger-pointers will likely have the last say at our expense.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.