Antigua and Barbuda have expressed their reservations over India’s request to revoke the citizenship of Mehul Choksi whose extradition has been sought by the Indian government, officials said.
Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi are wanted in the Rs 13,578-crore fraud in Punjab National Bank (PNB). The case is being probed by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate.
At a meeting with representatives of the Indian High Commission, Antigua and Barbuda officials reportedly said that they couldn’t annul Choksi’s citizenship as that would violate their constitution. They claimed he got citizenship only after his credentials were “verified.” However, they assured Indian officials that they might consider New Delhi’s extradition request once a Red Corner Notice (RCN) is issued against him.
The National Central Bureau (NCB) of the Interpol in Antigua also informed CBI that Choksi is present in the country, CBI said on Thursday.
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Sources, however, said that the key PNB scam accused is not under detention and had, in fact, been moving in and out of the country on an Antiguan passport.
Indian officials have received a photocopy of Choksi’s passport issued by the two Caribbean island nations but it does not have any local address. “There is only his photograph and details such as his father’s name, date of issue and expiry of the passport, crucial information about his address has not been shared,” said a senior official.
Choksi applied for Antiguan citizenship in November 2017 and took the oath of citizenship on January 15, 2018 — he left India on January 7 — under the much-debated Citizenship Investment Program.
Those holding Antigua and Barbuda passports enjoy visa-free travel to 132 countries, including the UK, Singapore and countries in the Schengen area.
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On July 2, based on the CBI request, Interpol issued an RCN against Choksi’s nephew, Nirav Modi, his brother Neeshal Modi and close aide Subhash Parab in the alleged fraud which is being probed by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
Choksi is also an accused in the same case. However, an RCN request made on May 29 against him is pending before Interpol.
Choksi has challenged the agency’s request to issue the RCN citing poor law and order and failure of the state to provide him required security. The CBI has told Interpol that Choksi is an “economic offender” and the state would provide necessary protection to him.
In the absence of an extradition treaty between India and Antigua and Barbuda, the extradition request has been made through an affidavit which was drafted in accordance with the United Nations Convention against Corruption to which both Antigua and Barbuda and India are signatories.
Last week, a special CBI court affirmed the agency’s affidavit.
On July 23, the US Department of Justice, in a communication routed through the CBI, wrote to ED that it had not recorded details of Choksi’s movements but its “assessment is that he has flown out (of the USA) on an Antiguan passport”. Following this, sources said, Choksi again left Antigua and visited the US only to return by the weekend.