Mehul Choksi case: What are the legal issues before India?
India has been looking to gain custody of fugitive jeweler Mehul Choksi, wanted in the Rs. 13,000 crore PNB loan fraud case. Choksi, 62, was recently arrested in Dominica for illegally entering the country from Antigua. He had been staying in Antigua since 2018. A team of eight officials has been engaged to bring Choksi back to India, however, some legal challenges remain.
Choksi was reportedly arrested in Dominica on May 25, two days after his illegal arrival in the country. Choksi's legal team informed authorities that he was honey-trapped, abducted, and brought to Dominica. He had befriended a woman, who brought him to an apartment in Antigua on May 23, it said. He was then abducted, thrashed, and forcibly brought to Dominica, it added.
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Brown had requested Dominica to deport Choksi to India. However, Dominica indicated that he might be repatriated to Antigua. Notably, Choksi had acquired Antiguan citizenship in 2017. He had also surrendered his Indian passport before fleeing India in January 2018. His lawyer argued that since Choksi is not an Indian citizen, he cannot be repatriated to India.
India does not allow dual citizenship. Under the Indian Citizenship Act, 1955, any Indian citizen ceases to be an Indian once they acquire foreign citizenship. Hence, Choksi is an Antiguan citizen, even though India has contested the surrender of his passport. A certificate of surrender of the passport has not been issued, sources informed The Indian Express.
Further, the sources said that Interpol has issued a Red Notice against Choksi in light of his crimes committed in India. They said this would be argued in court, adding that all relevant case documents have been sent to Dominica. Further, a Home Ministry official told NDTV that Choksi acquired Antiguan citizenship on the basis of false declarations.
Sources told TIE that the surrender of a passport is aimed at preventing a person to use an Indian passport for travel after acquiring foreign citizenship. A former Ministry of External Affairs official said, "Some countries, which do not allow dual citizenship, insist on surrender of the Indian passport before formalizing citizenship of their country. However, this is not the case with Antigua."
India can argue that Choksi's sole intention to gain Antiguan citizenship was to escape prosecution in India, sources told TIE. "That he has an Interpol notice against him is good enough ground to hand him over to India," an official said. On the issue of Choksi being beaten up, the official said that is not connected to Indian authorities.
The High Court of Justice in Dominica is currently hearing the extradition proceedings against Choksi. A team of seven lawyers represent him, News18 reported. Dominican Leader of Opposition Lennox Linton was also present in court. Linton is accused of being in cahoots with Choksi's brother Chetan to push the honey-trap and abduction story. Linton has also denied knowing Chetan.