Dominica document shows Mehul Choksi was termed 'prohibited immigrant'; all you need to know
Documents accessed by News18 show that the Internal Security minister of Dominica, Rayburn Blackmoore, wrote to Choksi on 25 May informing him that he was being declared a 'prohibited immigrant' under the country's Passport Act
Mehul Choksi suffered a setback Wednesday, as news reports made public certain documents that suggest both Antigua and Dominica have disowned the fugitive diamantaire, who thus far had been successfully evading Indian laws by claiming citizenship benefits in the Caribbean.
Documents accessed by News18 show that Dominica had barred Choksi from entering the nation after his alleged abduction and subsequent arrest in the Caribbean nation. Likewise, the Antiguan government has already said that they have moved to rescind his citizenship because he filed a 'false declaration' and concealed information at the time of obtaining Antiguan citizenship.
Choksi, currently under arrest in Dominica for illegally entering the country from Antigua, is fighting a case to prove he was abducted and brought to Dominica rather than violating immigration norms of his own free will. A court hearing the matter will decide upon Choksi's bail plea tomorrow (Friday).
Choksi, wanted in India for the Rs 13,500 crore Punjab National Bank scam, took citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda in 2017 using the Citizenship by Investment programme before fleeing India in the first week of January 2018.
He had mysteriously gone missing on 23 May from Antigua and Barbuda. He was detained in the neighbouring island country Dominica for illegal entry after a possible romantic escapade with his rumoured girlfriend. Indian investigators have alleged that when captured, Choksi was en route Cuba to avoid deportation to India. His lawyers, however, alleged that he was kidnapped from Jolly Harbour in Antigua by policemen looking like Antiguan and Indian and brought to Dominica on a boat as Antiguan laws offer him protection from deportation.
Dominica's stand on Choksi's deportation
Documents accessed by News18 show that the Internal Security minister of Dominica, Rayburn Blackmoore, wrote to Choksi on 25 May informing him that he was being declared a 'prohibited immigrant' under the country's Passport Act. The letter further stated that Choksi's entry into the nation would be deemed illegal and he would be liable to police action.
This is in contrast to the claim by his lawyer that Choksi did not enter Dominica illegally and the police there cannot arrest him as he is not a “prohibited immigrant".
The 62-year-old businessman is currently facing a court case in Dominica for illegally entering the island country from Antigua.
Earlier, during a hearing on his bail plea, the Dominican government represented by Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Sherma Dalrymple had "strongly objected" to Choksi's plea calling him a flight risk, Dominica News Online reported.
The country's prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit had also termed Choksi as an Indian citizen even as he added that the government will protect his rights while a court decides what happens to the fugitive.
Currently, Choksi has got interim relief from immediate repatriation to India by the Dominican court, which adjourned the matter of his detention.
Antigua's stand on Choksi's deportation
Antigua Information Minister Melford Nicholas has said the government has moved to rescind his citizenship under the point that he made a "false declaration", a move that Choksi has challenged in court.
"When Mehul Choksi applied for citizenship, his name didn't appear in any of the agencies who would able to give an attestation as to whether or not there was a charge against him," the minister said.
"We had him (Mehul Choksi) under the point that he made a false declaration and moved to rescind his citizenship. He has challenged it in the court," he added.
How Antigua and Dominica's stand impact Choksi's deportation?
Even though both the governments have distanced themselves from the controversy surrounding Choksi, his fate will eventually depend on the Caribbean courts who must determine whether his entry into Dominica was wilful or forced.
At present, two courts in Dominica are hearing separate cases related to Choksi. In one case, the high court has to decide if he was forcefully brought into Dominica, which if true, can make his subsequent arrest illegal. The court will also decide which country should Choksi be deported to. In another case, the Magistrate Court is hearing the matter of Choksi’s alleged illegal entry into their country.
According to a former CBI director, current laws are likely to favour Choksi's deportation to India only if it can be proved that Choksi entered Dominica of his own free will. AP Singh said, "If the Dominica court finds that Choksi was kidnapped and forcibly taken to Dominica, he would be deported to Antigua as his country of origin."
However, if the Cuba theory is indeed proved probable then deportation is a much easier process than deportation. "If a criminal or a wanted fugitive is living in a country where they have legal status as a citizen, only an extradition process is left... For deportation, if someone enters a third country illegally and is caught, the country concerned must deport to India. The CBI has many deportation experiences under Interpol's Red Corner notices," the ex-CBI director told ANI.
Till the time both cases are decided, Choksi will remain in Dominican Police's custody.
Why did Choksi flee Antigua?
Presumably, Choksi decided to flee from Antigua and Barbuda to Cuba in order to avoid being extradited to India after exhausting his appeals in that country’s judicial system.
Since Cuba has no extradition agreement with India, Choksi’s retrieval from the island nation would have been much more difficult than before. However, things did not go according to Choksi's plan as he was captured by Dominican authorities when en route to Cuba.
His alleged girlfriend Barbara Jabarica has also claimed that Choksi indeed planned to escape to Cuba via Dominica as he had mentioned that their next meeting could be in Cuba next time, she told news agency ANI in an exclusive interview.
"Well, he never used words like escape or shared with me such a plan like this. However, he did ask me twice if I have ever been to Cuba, he also told me that next time we may meet in Cuba. He never explained the escape plan but I'm certain that Dominica is not ideal of his final destination but if you ask my opinion, I can be more and more certain that Cuba could have been his final destination," Jabarica told ANI.
However, another theory in circulation, one propounded by Choksi and his lawyers is, that this was some ploy by Indian agents to get him away from Antigua where he enjoys protection and force illegal deportation eventually. He said that he was attacked while he was on his way to meet Jabarica, with whom he claimed to have "friendly terms". He also claimed that he was kidnapped during a meeting with Jabarica, adding that the latter's conduct during the whole episode clearly pointed out that "she was an integral part of this entire scheme to kidnap him".
Jabarica, however, has distanced herself from the situation.
"I'm hearing and reading a lot of crap and interesting insane stories, by looking back at what they initially said what lawyer and wife said at the beginning I believe he said he was driving down in Jolly harbour. He was on the way to dinner. I think that was the first statement and they blamed the Antigua police. A bit later they started with Indian agents, who wanted to kidnap him, and again later, the idea was he came to my apartment, that I lured him, I forced him then he was honey-trapped by a person or police he knows."
"I think, so far they are changing the stories. Of course, I'm very shocked and speechless. I'm trying to understand why they want to bring me into this story. Why they use my name? What is really the idea from the beginning or was it a backup plan - option B, that something didn't work out. They think this story can be used since she was in the area?" she told ANI.
On Thursday, Dominica High Court adjourned the hearing on Choksi's habeas corpus petition. The next hearing is likely to be held after a month
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Choksi went missing from Antigua and Barbuda on 23 May; his lawyers allege that he was kidnapped and brought to Dominica by boat