This week has seen a flurry of updates on the Mehul Choksi story. What follows is a brief summary of events up until now.
In November 2017, Choksi, a diamond merchant of Indian origin, obtained Antiguan citizenship through that country’s citizenship by investment program. He was, at the time, not under any type of criminal investigation and had no prior convictions. It would be unfair, therefore, to reproach the Antigua & Barbuda CIU for having approved Choksi’s application in the first instance because, as we commented at the time, CIUs Can’t be Expected to Reject Applicants Whose Alleged Crimes Are Not Yet Known.
Just a few months after getting his Antiguan citizenship, however, Choksi became the subject of one of the most high-profile criminal investigations in recent Indian history. Indian prosecutors claim he was the mastermind behind India’s largest-ever bank fraud and that he, along with his nephew Nirav Modi, swindled some US$1.8 billion from the Punjab National Bank.
Since then, the matter has represented a persistent headache for the government of Antigua & Barbuda, one that Prime Minister Gaston Browne has sought to rid himself of through extraditing the man to his country of origin, where he would stand trial.
Antigua & Barbuda, however, is a country governed not by prime ministers, but by common law. Antiguan citizen Choksi, whether guilty or not, has the same legal rights as any other citizen accused – but not yet convicted – of a crime. In the years since the debacle began, Choksi has used the legal avenues available to him in Antigua to prevent his extradition. Successfully, so far.
Botched escape or orchestrated abduction?
On May 26th, police in the Commonwealth of Dominica detained Choksi upon arrival by boat in the country, where he was accompanied by a woman of unknown identity. PM Browne has claimed the woman was Choksi’s girlfriend. Mehul Choksi and his lawyers, on the other hand, say the woman was part of a team that kidnapped and abducted Choksi from Antigua.
Antiguan authorities are refusing to take back Choksi, who had gone missing from the country for a few days before being found and detained on Dominican soil—instead requesting that Dominica repatriate him directly to India.
After the detention of Choksi, PM Browne told ANI that Antigua & Barbuda was in talks with the Dominican and Indian governments to secure his repatriation to India.
Choksi has been engaged in court battles in Antigua & Barbuda since the Indian government requested his extradition. The Antiguan government, however, has maintained its stance as a common law nation abiding by the regulations and giving the rights to its nationals for due process, although PM Browne is quite confident about how all of this will play out, saying: “His citizenship was processed; he got through but the reality is his citizenship will be revoked and he will be repatriated to India; so there is recourse. It’s not a case that we are trying to provide any safe harbor for criminals, for those who are involved in financial crimes.”
PM Browne has, on past occasions, indicated a distaste for Choksi and that he would like to see him repatriated but that his hands are tied by the rule of law.
“We have to allow for due process. He has a matter before the court and as we said to the Indian government, criminals have fundamental rights, too, and Choksi has a right to go to court and defend his position. But I can assure you, after he has exhausted all of his legal options, he will be extradited.”
While the Choksi has case caused a stir in global news and affected the brand of the Antiguan citizenship by investment program, many have credited the government for its reluctance to hand over one of its citizens without due process to Indian courts, who have a reputation for having a checkered track record for respecting the legal process. Antigua & Barbuda’s reluctance to suspend fundamental rights while under pressure from larger countries stands in stark contrast to events that transpired in Vanuatu.
Antigua & Barbuda and India do not have an extradition treaty, but since both nations are signatories to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), there are legal grounds for Antigua to extradite Choksi.
The Economic Times report that Indian authorities have sent a private Qatar Airways jet to Dominica with a multitude of documents for Choksi’s deportation, although officials in Delhi refused to confirm or deny whether this is true.
For more info on Choksi’s backstory, check our detailed timeline here.
Dominica temporarily suspends repatriation; Choksi Produced Before Dominican Magistrate
Dominican authorities have temporarily suspended the repatriation of Choksi to India over his legal representatives’ filing of a habeas corpus petition, a court civil action against state agents that determines whether a person’s imprisonment or detention is lawful.
Choksi’s lawyers claim he was abducted, tortured, and forcibly taken to Dominica, and that the woman he traveled with, the same one PM Browne claimed to be Choksi’s girlfriend, was actually part of the India-linked team that abducted him in collaboration with Antiguan officials. Choksi’s wife later revealed that the woman was not Choksi’s girlfriend, but someone he knew who would “go on walks with him”.
Choksi’s legal team says he was “badly beaten up” while India Today shared supposed footage of the jeweler behind bars with what seems to be bruises or injuries.
Vijay Aggarwal, Choksi’s lawyer in India, hinted something was not right when it came to the alleged fraudster’s entry into Dominica:
“My understanding is that his reaching Dominica was not voluntary. I find something fishy.”
Choksi has since been admitted into the Dominica China Friendship Hospital, where he tested negative for COVID-19.
Atlee Rodney, Antiguan Chief of Police, denied claims of abduction and said the police have no information or indication that Choksi was taken by force.
“The only assertion we are hearing is from the attorney, and Dominica Police have not confirmed it. We have no involvement in his movement from Antigua to Dominica or wherever he left,” said Rodney.
Dominica High Court Judge Bernie Stephenson issued the order for Choksi’s production before a magistrate after nearly three hours of hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by Choksi’s legal team on his behalf.
Choksi appeared before the magistrate in a wheelchair wearing a blue t-shirt and black shorts. His legal team attempted to post bail for the accused during the hearing.
State Attorney Sherma Dalrymple had pleaded with the court to deny Choksi bail as he was considered a “flight risk”, highlighting that he has an Interpol Red Notice on him, that he faces 11 charges in India, that the Antiguan government is currently undergoing court proceedings to have Choksi extradited, and that the man has no ties in Dominica that would make him reluctant to flee if bail were granted.
Wayne Nord, one of Choksi’s attorneys, challenged Dalrymple’s assessment of the accused as a flight risk, stating that his client’s health conditions – which we are yet to get a clear report about – are enough to ground him in Dominica.
Norde also argued that the charges in India and the extradition proceeding in Antigua were more reasons for Choksi to stay in Dominica. The attorney also cited section 4 of the new bail act, which indicates that a defendant is entitled to bail unless the offense they are accused of is of a serious nature. “Various non-nationals in Dominica are on bail for similar matters, so we are of the view that bail can be granted to our client with or without conditions to his bail,” said Norde. He also advised the magistrate that stringent conditions can be placed on his fugitive’s bail, and even proposed a bail sum of ten thousand EC$, twice as high as the maximum penalty for illegal entry cases.
Magistrate Candia Carrette-George eventually decided on denying Choksi bail, however, highlighting the severity of the situation and that she is not convinced Choksi would stay in Dominica on his free will to attend his trial. She adjourned the matter to the 14th of June at the Roseau Magistrate court.
Choksi then returned to the hospital where he will remain until he is discharged and will then be placed in police custody. And while his lawyers claimed that Choksi does not feel safe in police custody and that Choksi would himself pay for his own security, the court’s decision to deny bail means he will end up in police custody.
Kerfuffle in Dominica; opposition accused of supporting Choksi
Dominica’s Leader of the Opposition (LOD) Lennox Linton has condemned the current cabinet’s handling of the Choksi case, even calling for an investigation of the government’s approach to the matter.
Linton requested the investigation of Dominica’s government, police force, customs officials, and ministers who “influenced” authorities’ actions to “unlawfully facilitate the inhumane transfer of Choksi to Dominica”.
Linton accused Prime Minister Skerrit of “obvious collaboration” with Indian and Antiguan governments in “undermining the judiciary in the Eastern Caribbean.”
Linton said in his official statement that his party would “demand urgent remedial action to remove the stain from this unfortunate incident on the image of Dominica and restore our country’s reputation as a responsible member of the family of nations, diligently carrying out the rule of law responsibilities of international development,”
The LOD, however, may have spoken too soon, as allegations were leveled against opposition parties for reportedly having supported the fugitive diamantaire. In an article by Scott Johnson for the Associates Times, the author alleges that Dominica’s opposition may have received cash contributions in exchange for intervening politically on Choksi’s behalf.
Linton refuted the claims in an interview with Dominica News Online saying: “I do not know Chetan Choksi. I have never seen him. I have never spoken to him. I have never met with him.”
Linton continued, “The smear article in Associates Times said that I met with him at my residence in Marigot. Well, I could not have met with anybody at my residence in Marigot because that residence was destroyed in the hurricane of 2017 and I have been unable to rebuild it.”
The next chapter in the Mehul Choksi saga is scheduled for June 14th, when a hearing in Dominican courts will determine whether the man is to be repatriated to Antigua, India, or otherwise.