Fugitive Mehul Choksi deluding self: Giving up citizenship won't protect him; place of crime is important, not nationality

Extradition under international law is the process of delivering a person taking refuge in a country after committing a crime in another country. While the existence of a bilateral extradition treaty helps, the lack of it need not be an insurmountable barrier in bringing the fugitive to justice because the Commonwealth law principle and the UN Convention on fighting corruption require the comity of nations to help each other in fighting crimes, economic and others, by not harbouring a criminal.

Antigua and Barbuda has informed India that in the absence of a bilateral treaty, Mehul Choksi can still be extradited to New Delhi as both countries are members of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Commonwealth law on extradition is a British legacy and Britain didn’t want aspiring fugitives in its own territories.

File image of Mehul Choksi. Twitter

File image of Mehul Choksi. Twitter

Under the ancient Greco-Roman law, extradition of nationals had been proving difficult as they got special protection and indulgence from the state where they were hiding as their own, i.e. as its citizen. The modern Commonwealth law principle doesn’t countenance this cosseting of citizens.

Choksi, the fugitive diamantaire of Punjab National Bank (PNB) Rs 13,000 crore scam infamy, is perhaps mistakenly counting on the Greco-Roman law to come to his rescue. He has surrendered both his passport and citizenship along with the requisite fee to the Indian High Commission in Antigua.

By shaking off his umbilical cord with India when the heat has become unbearable, Choksi reckons he can shake off his dubious past as well but as the Indian External Affairs officials point out this is not going to stop his extradition to India in any way in as much as citizenship has nothing to do with extradition and trial.

For good measure, they cite the example of the extradition of Christian Michelle from Dubai–he is neither a citizen of India nor of UAE, but of Britain. That hardly deterred Dubai from acceding to the Indian government’s request for his extradition to India to face investigations and trial in the AgustaWestland helicopter case.

The country where a crime has been committed has the right to try the criminal. This is a time-honoured principle of international law as well as the Commonwealth law, responsible for spawning the concept of extradition.

Choksi was an Indian when he committed a crime. Even if the question of citizenship rears its head in Antigua with which India doesn’t have an extradition treaty, the Indian government can always turn around and say that he was very much an Indian citizen at the material point of time when he committed the over Rs 13,000 crore monumental Punjab and National Bank (PNB) fraud.

Acquisition of citizenship by investing $100,000 was an afterthought, an ex-post-facto alibi which can never wash in any court of law. The move is, therefore, being seen as delaying tactics by Choksi from the extradition, which is being heard at the High Court of Antigua. Choksi and nephew Nirav Modi are kingpins of the Rs 13,000 crore PNB fraud which was an ongoing trickery starting in 2013 before the lid was off in 2018. They both fled from the country a year ago. Choksi was granted citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda on 15 January, 2018.

To be fair to Antigua, it has never given even an inkling of cosseting Choksi and has always given assurances that he will be extradited under the due process of law which has already been set in motion through the high court hearing. The only indulgence it perhaps showed him and his ilk was through its citizenship law that has a price tag for foreigners to become its own. But then Antigua is not alone in attracting funds and investments through the bait of citizenship although the Caribbean island generally beckons fugitives by their citizenship-for-investments laissez faire regime. Monte Carlo does this. Many tennis stars boasting considerable income have become residents of this small nation alongside France by maintaining a residence as well as parking their prize money as well as other funds in its secretive banks with a view to thumbing their noses at the taxmen of their motherlands.

(The author is a senior columnist and tweets @smurlidharan)


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Updated Date: Jan 22, 2019 14:39:47 IST

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