On Monday, PM Browne met with the High Commissioner of India H.E. V. Mahalingam to discuss a possible resolution to the case of Mr. Mehul Choksi, an Indian national who has acquired Antigua and Barbuda nationality through the Citizenship by Investment programme. Mr. Choksi is apparently wanted in India in connection with fraud allegations.
High Commissioner Mahalingham flew into Antigua yesterday on the instructions of his Government in order to engage the authorities of Antigua and Barbuda on the Choksi case.
The high commissioner explained that Mr. Choksi was accused by Indian law enforcement of having defrauded the Punjab National Bank, and of refusing to return to India to face the charges against him. He sought the cooperation of the Antigua and Barbuda authorities in detaining Mr. Choksi and revoking his citizenship. He explained that a formal request for the extradition of Mr. Choksi would be made by India shortly through diplomatic channels.
In the discussion, PM Browne highlighted the excellent relations which currently exist between India and Antigua and Barbuda, and mentioned the US$ 1 million donated to the Barbuda rebuilding effort by India. He also mentioned discussions he has held with India’s PM Narendra Modi at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit in London in April, demonstrating the close ties between both countries.
PM Browne was at pains to point out that the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) has carried out thorough due diligence checks on Mr. Choksi, but that the due diligence process had been completed before any charges were instituted against him. In fact, it was not clear that, up to the time of the meeting, the Indian authorities had yet put out an Interpol Red Notice in relation to Mr. Choksi.
It was emphasized to High Commissioner Mahalingham that the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, despite a profound willingness to help, faced severe legal challenges on both requests presented by the high commissioner.
PM Browne explained that the citizenship of Mr. Choksi could only be revoked with cause, based on whether or not Mr. Choksi had made false assertions or made material omissions of relevant facts during the citizenship application process. He further pointed out that going the route of extradition also presented legal difficulties because India was omitted from the list of states parties under the Commonwealth Extradition Act 2000, where only half the current Commonwealth membership was listed. In effect, this meant that the legal basis for extradition between both countries was non-existent.
PM Browne was accompanied in the meeting by Minister of Foreign Affairs E.P.‘Chet’ Greene; Hon. Steadroy Benjamin, Attorney-General and his legal team including Mr. Martin Camacho, Solicitor-General and Ms. Carla Harris, senior legal counsel; as well as Ambassador Colin Murdoch, senior advisor to PM Browne.
PM Browne, as well as his ministers, emphasized the willingness of Government to cooperate with India, and urged the Indian authorities to collaborate fully especially in the provision of irrelevant information on the Choksi case.
In further developments, the Attorney-General has revealed that Mr. Choksi’s attorney has filed a case in the High Court today asking for a declaration from the Court that Mr. Choksi is, by virtue of Section 119.1 of the Constitution a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda; that no lawful basis exists for the extradition of Mr. Choksi under Section 5 of the 1993 Extradition Act; and that, in the absence of the extradition arrangements, Mr. Choksi was not liable to be detained for purposes of expulsion, extradition or other lawful removal at the request of the Indian Government.
Attorney-General Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin subsequently informed that research by his legal team had uncovered the existence of a Statutory Instrument No 34/2001 the Extradition Designated (Commonwealth Countries) (Amendment Order)made by the Minister under Section 7 of the Extradition Act 12/1993 which expressly brings India under the ambit of bilateral extradition arrangements.