Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Alfonso Browne appears to have finally relented and agreed to revoke the citizenship of economic offender Mehul Choksi, who, along with his nephew diamantaire Nirav Modi, is accused of defrauding Punjab National Bank (PNB) of over Rs 13,500 crore.
Choksi had obtained citizenship of the Caribbean island nation under a Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) in November 2017. At that time, however, Browne's Cabinet colleague and the country's Foreign Minister EP Chet Greene had opposed granting Choksi citizenship, saying that CIP was not meant for "the scoundrels of the world".
The criminal investigation initiated by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) shortly after the PNB scam broke in January 2018 has come to haunt Choksi, who is set to be stripped off Antiguan citizenship.
Browne's latest statement belies the Antiguan law that says citizenship can only be scrapped, pending conviction.
"His (Choksi's) 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," Browne said in a statement. "It's not a case that we are trying to provide any safe harbour for criminals, for those who are involved in financial crimes."
"We have to allow for due process. He has a matter before the court, and as we told 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."
Sources in the Indian government said the cancellation of Choksi's citizenship was an internal matter of the Antiguan and Barbudan government, and it would have little bearing on his extradition, which is a separate process altogether.
Browne's announcement comes a day after the Bombay High Court asked Choksi to submit his medical reports to JJ Hospital in Mumbai in a bid to evaluate whether he is physically fit to travel to India.
In April, Choksi had moved the court, claiming that he did not intentionally evade joining the investigation against him in the alleged case of fraud but was incapacitated because of poor health. JJ Hospital authorities are believed to have agreed to send an air ambulance to Antigua and Barbuda to bring an "ill" Choksi back home.
The ED has accused Choksi of money laundering under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. Three of his companies had allegedly fraudulently obtained Letters of Understanding to the tune of Rs 30 billion and later got the credit limit enhanced to Rs 31 billion. His overseas companies were allegedly used to funnel funds, and a non-bailable arrest warrant was issued against him for being "an economic offender and absconder".
Choksi has, however, maintained that all allegations levelled by the ED are fake and baseless. His defence: "The PNB is squarely liable for the lapses, and I have been made a scapegoat. I don't know the exact financial details as there were officers in my company who dealt with these matters."
Choksi's legal counsel is likely to mount his defence on the ground that the fugitive businessman is "apprehensive" that he could be "denied proper and necessary medical treatment" once he is arrested and extradited to India.
Updated Date: Jun 25, 2019 14:36:55 IST