Days after the dramatic escape and subsequent capture of wanted diamond trader, Mehul Choksi, sources in the Indian agencies say deportation could take time owing to legal tangles. This after the Commonwealth of Dominica in a statement that they would be repatriating Choksi to Antigua.
Choksi, who along with his nephew, Nirav Modi is wanted in the Rs 13,500 crore loss caused to Punjab National Bank (PNB) reportedly went missing on Sunday near Jolly Harbour in Antigua and was last seen at 5.15 pm on the said date before leaving home in a motorcar which was recovered by the local police, the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda said in a statement posted on its Facebook page on Tuesday. He was subsequently captured by Dominica police while trying to flee to Cuba in a boat.
“Choksi, a citizen of India and who is wanted by the Indian authorities, has been detained by law enforcement for illegal entry into Dominica. A red alert has also been issued by Interpol bearing Choksi’s name,” the country’s Ministry of National Security and Home Affairs said in a statement Thursday. “The Ministry of National Security and Home Affairs is in communication with the authorities of Antigua and Barbuda to ascertain some facts including the status of his Antiguan Citizenship. Once the information is provided by the Antigua authorities, possible arrangements will be made for Mr. Mehul Choksi to be repatriated to Antigua,” the statement added.
Earlier in the day, speaking to an Indian news agency, PM Gaston Brown of the twin Carribean islands said, “He (Choksi) was found in Dominica. He may have entered the island illegally, possibly by boats. The Dominican government is cooperating with the Antiguan and Indian governments. We have requested Dominican law enforcement agencies to not return him to Antigua where he has legal and constitutional rights as a citizen. We specifically requested them to have Indian law enforcement agencies make necessary arrangements to have him returned directly to India”.
Sources in the Indian agencies said that deportation won’t be a simple process and could face legal hurdles. “The law clearly states that deportation made on the strength of an Interpol notice has to be made to the country of origin of the person apprehended. In this case, it’s Antigua. And in Antigua he is contesting both his extradition and his cancellation of citizenship. So deportation won’t be easy,” said a senior official privy to the developments. “However a lot of talks are happening at diplomatic and government level and the indian agencies will act according to the directions given by them,” added the official.
Sources added, India will use diplomatic channels to bring back Mehul Choksi from Dominica, sources indicated. Indian High Commissioner to Guyana KJ Srinivasa who is also in charge of Antigua has been playing a key role in the process to bring back Choksi, it has been learnt.
Sources said India enjoys good ties with Dominica. New Delhi recently sent one lakh Covid vaccines free of cost to the tiny Caribbean island as part of its “Vaccine Maitri” initiative.
Since Mehul Choksi entered Dominica illegally, it will be easy to deport him to India, sources said.
The government is assessing options after Antigua Prime Minister Gaston Browne was quoted as saying that the wanted businessman should be sent back to India directly.
Meanwhile Choki’s counsel, Vijay Aggarwal told ET, “As per 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 immigration and passport Act section 17 and 23 ,he can be deported only to Antigua. Moreover, as there is Antiguan High Court order restraining processing any request from India, my understanding is that he has to be sent back to Antigua only and there is no question of his being sent to India,” he told ET. “Moreover there should be no speculation till one finds out from Mehul Choksi that how he landed up in Dominica my understanding is that his reaching Dominica is not voluntary. So I find something fishy that nobody seems to be at the moment looking into the fact of how exactly he reached Dominica . It has to be done legally and it is not a game of chess and we are dealing with a human being and nor a pawn that shall be placed here or there and it cannot be on somebody’s desires and whims.Further as per universal declaration of human right there are international covenants on voluntary repatriation and a person can be deported to only the country to his citizenship,” he added.