Antigua and Barbuda have put to rest the speculation that India is sending a special long-haul flight to the Carribean islands to bring back fugitive Mehul Choksi.
In an exclusive telephonic conversation with India Today from St. John's, Lionel "Max" Hurst, Chief of Staff in Prime Minister Gaston Browne's office, said that his government is unaware of any Indian officials flying to Antigua and Barbuda for Mehul Choksi.
Emphasising that Choksi now is an Antiguan citizen, Hurst said, "Our understanding is that Mr Choksi has surrendered his Indian citizenship and as a consequence, he may no longer be a citizen of India. Hence, Antigua and Barbuda could not deprive him of his citizenship because he would then become a stateless person and we would not be allowed to do that."
According to some media reports on Saturday, Indian agencies had commissioned a long-range Air India Boeing to bring back fraudsters Mehul Choksi and Jatin Mehta who have found safe havens in Antigua and Barbuda and Kitts and Nevis, respectively. According to these reports, officials from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) were to fly non-stop to the Carribeans to bring back the absconders.
While there is still no clarity on the case of Jatin Mehta, Mehul Choksi had early this week surrendered his Indian passport to the Indian High Commission in Guyana. He has also challenged the matter of his extradition request by India in the Antiguan courts.
Lionel Hurst said that since the matter lies with the courts, it is now a decision that is out of the ambit of the "political directorate". He added that the decision could take a long time since Choksi has the right to appeal any adverse decision against him in the higher courts.
"The court would have to render a decision that would be unfavourable to Mr Choksi. But, bear in mind that even if the High Court does, Mr Choksi still has an appeal of right to the Court of Appeals and then eventually to the apex court which is the Privy council in London. This matter may last for a very long time if the Indian authorities are relying upon the subject person to use the Antigua and Barbuda courts to prevent his extradition", said Mr Hurst.
Choksi has also used health grounds to plea in the High Court denial of permission to fly such a long distance to India.
"Mr Choksi has indicated that a long flight to India would certainly cause his demise and as a consequence, he would not be flying back to India under any circumstances. Under those circumstances, the matter became one in which the court will play a vital role and not the political directorate of Antigua and Barbuda. Though we have entered pleas before the courts, we certainly have not got any commission by the court to deport or extradite Mr Choksi."
To a question on the special Air India flight that is flying from India, Mr Hurst said that there has been no conversation between the two governments regarding the same, instead, there were chartered flights flying Indians to Antigua and Barbuda for the test series. He said, "I believe there is cricket in the West Indies...the second test series begins in Antigua on the 31st of January. It could very well be that a group of Indians may have chartered an aircraft to come see the cricket match but we don't know of any Indian government officials flying to Antigua in order to arrest or to take Mr Choksi away."
Mehul Choksi a declared absconder was found to be in Antigua and Barbuda when in July last year the Antiguan authorities confirmed that he was residing thereby obtaining Antiguan citizenship through investment in November 2017, months before the PNB scandal broke out.