By Robert A Emmanuel
The spectre of Mehul Choksi continues to loom over the Antiguan and Barbudan government and the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) after the Indian-based Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) asked Interpol to restore the red notice against him.
Choksi has been wanted by Indian police over alleged criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, cheating and dishonesty, including delivery of property, corruption and money laundering, in connection with a $1.8 billion scam at the Punjab National Bank.
In the Cabinet press briefing, Chief of Staff in the Prime Minister’s Office Ambassador Lionel Hurst said that the situation with Choksi should not be taken as standard bearer for the CIP and its due diligence protocols.
“Choksi has been bad news for our CIP programme because it is not intended to shield anyone who is accused of crimes from answering to those crimes in the jurisdiction from which they come.
“Choksi has used our generosity and fairness to advance his own position and escape the law in India; that having been said, we take extra care in ensuring that no one with a criminal record becomes a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda, and in fact our due diligence is greater than the due diligence utilised by the United States in granting visitor visas,” he explained.
Last week, the red notice was withdrawn by Interpol, after Choksi’s attorneys convinced the Lyon- based international police organisation that Indian investigating agencies had attempted to kidnap him in an attempt to deport the fugitive to India.
There were also concerns about a violation of his right to a fair trial.
A Red Notice is the highest level of alert requesting that law enforcement agencies globally locate and arrest a fugitive pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action.
The withdrawal of Choksi’s red notice drew annoyance from Indian authorities with the CBI stating that the lifting of the red notice was faulty with serious shortcomings, procedural violations, overreach of mandate, and mistakes.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, on Friday said that economic fugitives like Mehul Choksi should face justice, according to Indian media reports.
Last month, police authorities in the United Arab Emirates reportedly arrested a woman in connection with the kidnapping of Choksi who was later found in neighbouring Dominica.
The government, since last year, has taken a “hands-off” approach to the matter with the Prime Minister arguing that “the less said at this point, the better.”
The CIP in several island states, including Antigua and Barbuda, has faced increased scrutiny by the European Parliament in recent months, arguing that such programmes threatened the national security of the region.
Recently, several Caribbean countries with CIP programmes agreed to a deal with the US Department of Treasury over a “Six Principals” framework to strengthen the programmes’ due diligence protocols.