Key court hearing on Choksi saga set for today

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By Shermain Bique-Charles

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The High Court in Dominica will this morning hear submissions from attorneys representing Indian fugitive Mehul Choksi who are fighting his extradition to India and trying to determine how he got to the nature isle.

Yesterday afternoon, Justice Birnie Stephenson prevented Dominica’s Chief Immigration Officer from immediately removing Choksi from the country after his lawyers filed a writ, asking that his repatriation be put on hold until such time that they are able to meet with him.

Observer broke the news on Wednesday that the billionaire businessman – reported missing from his Antiguan home by his wife on Sunday – had been apprehended in Dominica early Tuesday morning.

His legal team in Dominica comprises Wayne Norde, Wayne Marsh, Cara Shillingford-Marsh and Julian Prevost and yesterday they filed a writ of habeas corpus, a legal method used to bring a prisoner or other detainee before the court to determine if the person’s imprisonment or detention is lawful.

A habeas petition proceeds as a civil action against the state agent – usually a warden – who holds the defendant in custody.

The judge also agreed that Choksi’s attorneys be allowed to meet with him forthwith – however that was denied in the first instance.

After some back and forth with local lawmen, Choksi’s attorneys were granted access to him individually.

Wayne Marsh told reporters that his client was reportedly abducted by an “Indian and Antiguan police officer on May 23 while on his way to a restaurant for dinner”.

He said Choksi, who apparently has several visible marks to his face, claimed he was masked and forced onto a yacht bearing a Dominican flag and taken to Toucari on the north coast of the island where he was kept until he was arrested by local police on Wednesday.

“It seems to me that they are in a hurry to repatriate him to India. I am not sure what is going on. These actions are very bizarre. I suspect the police and the government and police may have some good reason why they were adamant that he could not see his attorneys,” Marsh said.

All this comes as Prime Minister Gaston Browne has made it clear publicly that he thinks Choksi should be sent back to India. He said he is confident that the Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit will help ensure that request is fulfilled.

“Prime Minister Skerrit and I, we are very close allies. We collaborate on many issues and it was not a difficult proposition to convince him that he needed to cooperate with the Antiguan government,” Browne said.

However, the Acting Police Chief Lincoln Corbette said on Thursday that Choksi will not be repatriated to India; instead he will be returned to Antigua and Barbuda.

“Mehul Choksi is in Dominica only and he will be sent back to Antigua when everything is ascertained,” Corbette said.

Some observers say the matter won’t be easy to resolve as Choksi remains a citizen of Antigua, having gained the status via the citizenship by investment programme in 2017.

While India has an extradition arrangement with Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica isn’t among the 58 countries with which New Delhi has either extradition treaties or arrangements.

And, according to reports in cases involving countries with which India doesn’t have an extradition arrangement, the repatriation of fugitives largely depends on decisions made by local authorities. Such decisions are influenced by the legal remedies available under local laws to the fugitive and assurances given by India regarding the treatment of the fugitive.

Meanwhile Choksi’s attorney in India Vijay Aggarwal said in a statement yesterday, “There should be no speculation ‘til one finds out from Mehul Choksi how he landed up in Dominica.

“My understanding is that his reaching Dominica was not voluntary. So, I find something fishy that nobody seems to be looking into how exactly he reached Dominica.”

He added that Choksi could be deported only to Antigua and not India.

“As per the Indian Citizenship Act Section 9, the moment Mehul Choksi acquired the citizenship of Antigua, he ceased to be a citizen of India. Hence legally, as per the immigration and passport Act Section 17 and 23, he can be deported only to Antigua.

“Moreover, there is an Antiguan High Court order restraining processing any request from India… There is no question of his being sent to India,” Aggarwal said.

He also cited the universal declaration of human rights, adding “there are international covenants on voluntary repatriation and a person can be deported to only the country of his citizenship”.

Choksi is accused of defrauding India’s public sector Punjab National Bank (PNB) of billions of US dollars. He left India in January 2018, days before the PNB scam came to light.

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