The government has maintained its silence on the Mehul Choksi deportation case in the Caribbean islands, even as the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda claimed that he had information that India has sent a jet to Dominica to provide documentation and take custody of the fugitive businessman.
Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne said India is going “all out” to ensure that Mr. Choksi, who is wanted for the ₹13,578 crore Punjab National Bank fraud case, is deported to India, and indicated that Indian officials were in Dominica’s capital Roseau to escort him back on a Qatar Airways private jet parked now at the Douglas-Charles airport nearby, that landed there on May 28.
“Yes, I can confirm there is a jet there. My understanding is that the Indian government has sent certain documentation from the courts in India to confirm that Mr. Choksi is indeed a fugitive and my understanding is that the documentation will be used in the court case that will be heard at the court next Wednesday,” Mr. Browne told Pointe FM radio channel, where he broadcasts his own show, on Sunday.
According to publicly available information on Flight tracker sites, the jet, a Qatar Executive flight-A7CEE arrived travelled to Dominica from Doha to Delhi to Madrid, indicating it began its journey on May 27, the day before Mr. Choksi was produced in Dominica’s Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.
The Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs declined to comment on the issue.
Mr. Choksi, who has been on the run from India since 2018, disappeared from Antigua last Wednesday, and was arrested by Dominican authorities on Friday bearing grievous injuries from what his lawyers claimed was a “kidnap attempt”. Although Antigua’s Prime Minister asked Dominica to hand the fugitive over to India directly, a court in Dominica stayed the proceedings and will hear Mr. Choksi’s plea against the deportation on June 2.
PM Browne said Mr. Choksi had not been taken forcibly from Antigua, nor had he “escaped”, but that he had travelled to Dominica “to have dinner and a good time” with his girlfriend, whom he did not name.
“That would have been a monumental error because whereas in Antigua he is a citizen, we could not have deported him,” Mr. Browne said, comparing Mr. Choksi’s case to another case where U.S. marshals were allowed to apprehend a fugitive who was not a citizen from Antigua.
Official sources in New Delhi said the government is in touch with both Antigua and Dominica authorities and will continue to track Mr. Choksi “no matter whether he is in Antigua, Dominica or another place.”
Mr. Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi are wanted by both the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation, and an Interpol Red Corner Notice was issued in the case in December 2018. Mr. Modi is in custody in the United Kingdom as he faces an extradition process.
Officials said they hope that the Dominican court does grant his extradition to India directly; if it decides to send him back to Antigua the process to deport him will be more complicated by the questions over his citizenship.
PM Browne said although Mr. Choksi’s Antigua citizenship will “ultimately be revoked”, he enjoys full “constitutional and legal” protection in Antigua & Barbados for now, but claimed that Mr. Choksi also “remains an Indian citizen” as he has not completed the renunciation process.
According to the Indian Citizenship Act of 1959, however, say officials, a citizen ceases to be an Indian national if he “voluntarily acquires” the citizenship of another country, as Mr. Choksi did in 2017. The Antiguan government has also initiated a process of revoking Mr. Choksi’s citizenship through their courts, on the basis that he failed to divulge information on the cases against him in India.
(with inputs from Devesh K. Pandey)