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By Ambassador Anil Trigunayat, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, USA, TIO: The off and on the saga of the economic offender and a fugitive to the Caribbean, Mehul Choksi makes a fine plot for a Hollywood movie. It was all over the media and brought the two Caribbean states Antigua and Barbados and Dominica into the global limelight for the wrong reasons. They are being clubbed with the havens for economic offenders like Choksi who, in 2018, had slipped away from India after defrauding the Indian Punjab National Bank of US$2bn to Antigua. He also acquired their citizenship. He was able to do so in connivance with a Bank official. This was not new.
The story of famous scamster Harshad Shah, who used the loopholes of the Indian banking and financial system to earn riches, is instructive even for the uninitiated one. There is a Bollywood movie and a Netflix series on Shah eulogizing his trickstery. Natwar Lal and Charles Sobhraj have been household names in the sub-continent. The story of Choksi’s kidnapping on May 23 from the Antigua port by some Indian-looking men with the help of a honey trap in the form of a Hungarian lady and his reappearance on the shores of Dominica have twirls of intrigue and deceit implicit in them.
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What perhaps Choksi -the Diamantaire had not bargained for is an Extradition Treaty that India has with Antigua and has developed excellent relations with all the island states in the Caribbean especially with Antigua and Dominica to whom India has provided financial and capacity-building assistance on priority even during the pandemic, which is not forgotten. Hence Choksi is a liability and a hot potato none of them is willing to play with. From the statements of their Prime Ministers and security agencies, this became amply clear. In fact, Antigua Prime Minister even threatened to revoke Choksi’s acquired citizenship as he had concealed the material facts.
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On the other hand, Indian authorities have invoked the clauses of the Extradition Treaty to get Choksi back, while claiming that arguably he was still an Indian citizen. But this is a time-consuming and legally convoluted process that operates like its precedent based on British Law which is unlikely to deliver quick results as has been seen in the case of Mallya still enjoying the proverbial British hospitality. Cases of Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi are live examples of the British legal system. India, in terms of speed of justice, is not vastly different being broadly based on it. Gifts of colonialism never stop haunting.
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Dominica also does not have the Extradition Treaty with India. So it could potentially deport the illegally entered Choksi, allegedly kidnapped from Antigua, based on Interpol’s Red Corner Notice and the request of the Indian government. But countries and their systems also force them to ensure that their sovereignty does not appear to be compromised only due to political goodwill or expediency. Hence lengthy legal procedures become incumbent. An interesting angle was advanced when reportedly Indian agencies unsuccessfully tried to do a Mossad on Choksi. Such incidents are fodder for the media and critics alike and give rise and ruse to conspiracy theories of all kinds.
Having been part of several extradition treaty negotiations, I can safely say that it is highly technical and cumbersome to even conclude such treaties and equally difficult to execute unless you have them with countries like in the Middle East, where due to prevailing goodwill, it is possible to expedite the process as has been done in the case of Augusta helicopter scamster Christian Michel James and several other criminals and offenders by UAE in 2018. Until a genuine international effort and institutional mechanisms are created the Choksi’s of this world will continue to give a run to the agencies and defy the law and roam freely, ironically under the protection of the legalese.
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