Indian billionaire, diamond mogul Mehul Choksi is news. Big international news. So big, in fact, that if you do a Google news search for his name, the result ranks as its own topic; not just a few random news articles. Unfortunately, Antigua and Barbuda has become part of this big news cycle because Choksi is wanted for various crimes in India and is also a newly minted citizen of our bit of paradise.
From the publicly available information, Choksi was sworn in as a citizen in January 2018 after passing our Citizenship by Investment Programme’s “extensive vetting” in November 2017. There is some debate about the extent of our extensive vetting because representatives of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in India, have reportedly said, “no information regarding background check on Choksi was sought from it by the international agency last year,” and had a request been received, the CBI would have revealed that a non-bailable warrant was issued by the Karnataka High Court against
Choksi in 2016. That matter is separate to the current bank fraud crimes that Choksi has allegedly committed.
This response has raised a major question regarding our due diligence process because the government and the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) have said and continue to say, “The 2017 investigation revealed no derogatory information about Mr. Choksi.” So, the obvious question is: what is our due diligence process? Because, depending on what that process is, that may be a very accurate statement. If we do not actively reach out to local law enforcement, directly or through INTERPOL, to ascertain what is happening on the ground in relation to an applicant, we may not be getting the most accurate or up-to-date information. The CBI issued an INTERPOL Red Notice in June of this year, months after Choksi was made a citizen. A Red Notice, as per the INTERPOL website, is issued “to seek the location and arrest of wanted persons with a view to extradition or similar lawful action.” If our due diligence only looks at Red Notices, there would have been none there. So,
if we only take a cursory look at what is posted, and go no further, we can hardly consider that extensive vetting.
Be that as it may, we can only move forward. We have a situation where we have a very high-profile Indian citizen who has been accused of being part of a massive banking fraud. Some describing it as the largest banking fraud in Indian history. India, an ally, wants him back to face justice but he is now a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda and is subject to all the rights and protections of our nation. So what do we do?
Prime Minister Gaston Browne has said that Antigua and Barbuda will fully cooperate with the Indian authorities within the
confines of the law. He said that he believes there may be grounds for the revocation of Choksi’s citizenship but his grounds for such a belief have not been revealed. In any case, the revocation would have to follow the legal process and we were not too successful the last time we tried to find out what definitively is that process. Add to the mix a billionaire defendant and a high-profile law firm in the name of Watt, Dorsett & Company and the revocation route may be harder than most people think.
That would leave the Indian government with the pursuit of an extradition and as many people have pointed out, there is no formal extradition treaty between India and Antigua and Barbuda. That said, both countries are members of the Commonwealth and India should be able to extradite under the Extradition Act (a copy will be made available on antiguaobserver.com for easy reference). This may be messy because we have seen extraditions frustrated as they are fought in court and we suspect Watt, Dorsett & Company will put up strong opposition to any move to extradite.
The problem we face as a nation is that while we may have followed the
law and done everything correctly, if Choksi successfully defends against the citizenship revocation and/ or any extradition attempt, the perception will be that we are harbouring him. Our reaction, no matter whether they are constrained by law or not, will not garner any positive press. The legal details will be lost in the clamour for justice and his return. The end result will be another black eye for our international reputation and probably more.
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