By Elesha George
Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s comment was “the less said at this point the better”.
That seems to be the general approach taken by the government of Antigua and Barbuda regarding last year’s mysterious disappearance of fugitive businessman, Mehul Choksi.
The government continues to take what can be described as a hands-off approach since the Indian-born man went missing in May 2021.
Both the Attorney General, Steadroy Benjamin, and Prime Minister Browne said they have not been made privy to the full report on Choksi’s disappearance, which was authored by law enforcement in Antigua and Barbuda about a year ago.
“That report has not been shared with the Attorney General or any member of the Cabinet,” Browne insisted during Tuesday’s parliamentary proceedings.
He explained that the Cabinet was “briefed on at least one or two occasions by ONDCP [Office of National Drug and Money Laundering Control Policy] and so far, they’ve been able to identify suspects who are not citizens of Antigua and Barbuda, and clearly this is a matter that is before law enforcement and possibly will end up in court”.
A 19-page report, which media in India have quoted, states that there are five possible suspects, one of whom Browne shared was likely “a decoy” used to transport Choksi from Antigua to the neighbouring island of Dominica.
Prime Minister Browne denied being involved in the alleged abduction and said his initial concern was that his government would be accused of facilitating Choksi’s disappearance.
“It is true that I would have stated publicly that our preference would have been for him to be repatriated directly to India from Dominica, but that was on the basis that he skipped the island. At that time, we had no information or the slightest speculation that he may have been abducted.
“There is no way that we would have been involved in any decision or any attempt to have him removed from the state illegally.
“If indeed the government of India needed our cooperation, then we would not need a third party to get Choksi out of the country,” the prime minister stated.
Browne further stated that if indeed Choksi had not been a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda, his government would have wasted no time to make the Indian fugitive “persona non grata”.
“You can be assured that before law enforcement would have gone for him, there would have been a plane on the tarmac to take him back to India,” he touted.
As for the arrest of anyone found liable for kidnapping Choksi, Browne said that that is a matter for the police and the judicial system.
Choksi has been a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda since November 2017 after successfully applying under the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP).
The government had previously been reviewing legal ways to extradite him to India to answer charges relating to what has been described as one of the largest ever bank frauds in that country.