Trying to ascertain some facts, status of Mehul Choksi's Antiguan citizenship, says Dominica government

New Delhi: Indian diplomatic channels were abuzz all day with chatter about possible repatriation of businessman Mehul Choksi from Dominica – a tiny island in the Caribbean – where he was apprehended after going ‘missing’ in Antigua. However, this is easier said than done because Choksi happens to be a citizen of Antigua and strictly speaking he can only be extradited to that country.

In a statement, Dominica's Ministry of National Security and Home Affairs indicated as much when it said it is in touch with authorities of Antigua and Barbuda and possible arrangements will be made for him to be deported to the Caribbean island. The statement acknowledged that Choksi had entered the island illegally.

The Dominica government, however, added that it is trying to "ascertain some facts, including the status of his (Mehul Choksi's) Antiguan citizenship".

Earlier in the day, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne, clearly keen to wash his hands of the fugitive diamond merchant, had said that Choksi, who was captured in Dominica after going missing for three days, "needs to return to India" where he can face the criminal charges levelled against him.

However, Choksi's lawyer Vijay Agarwal pointed out that the moment his client, who is also the chairman of the Gitanjali group, 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 only be deported to Antigua.

Choksi is already fighting two cases in Antigua, related to his citizenship and his extradition to India. He had fled to the Caribbean in 2017 after acquiring the citizenship of Antigua, in exchange for promised investments. The Indian authorities are pressing for his extradition but Choksi, by getting entangled in local laws in either Dominica or Antigua, hopes to delay the inevitable.

Said Agarwal, Choksi’s lawyer, "There is also an Antiguan High Court order restraining the processing of any request from India for extradition; so my understanding is that he has to be sent back to Antigua only and there is no question of him being sent to India".

"Moreover there should be no speculation till one finds out from Choksi how he landed in Dominica; my understanding is that his reaching Dominica is not voluntary," Aggarwal said. He also said he found it fishy that nobody seems to be at the moment looking into the fact that how exactly he reached Dominica.

"Nonetheless, deportation n has to be done legally and it is not a game of chess. 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,’’ the lawyer points out.

"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 of his citizenship," Agarwal said. Input: IANS, Antigua Observer.

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