Gov’t expresses disappointment at statement made by senior India government minister

Mehul Choksi.

Government on Tuesday expressed its disappointment at a statement made by India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman regarding the island’s Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP).

Indian media reports quoted the finance minister as saying that several jurisdictions allow “economic offenders to use investment-based schemes to obtain residence or citizenship to escape from legal consequences and underlined the need to deal with such practices”.

Sitharaman is reported to have drawn attention to the case of Mehul Choksi, who, it is claimed, “surrendered his Indian passport to become a citizen of the Caribbean country Antigua and Barbuda under its Citizenship by Investment (CIP) scheme”.

India and Antigua do not have a bilateral extradition pact but New Delhi has been trying to bring back the diamond billionaire from Antigua under a law of the island it says that allows St. John’s to send back a fugitive to a designated Commonwealth country.

Mehul Choksi was granted citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda in 2018 and he took the oath of allegiance to that country on January 15 last year. Nearly two weeks later, on January 29, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in India filed a case and started investigating him and his nephew Nirav Modi.

In its statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs  said it had sent a diplomatic note to the Indian government making it clear “that, contrary to the Honourable Minister’s claim, Mr. Choksi did not “surrender his Indian passport to become a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda under its Citizenship by Investment (CIP) scheme”.

It said the facts are that Choksi applied for Antigua and Barbuda Citizenship by investment and was subjected to vetting of his background by Interpol which was provided with written and official clearance from the Police authorities in India, attesting that he had no criminal record and was not wanted or being investigated for any crime.

It said in addition, Choksi was granted citizenship only after the competent police authorities in India gave him official clearance and that he “was under no obligation whatsoever to surrender his Indian passport to be become a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda under its investment programme.

“Any decision he made to surrender his Indian passport had nothing to do with the Antigua and Barbuda Citizenship Programme”.

In the diplomatic note, the Gaston Browne government said that “contrary to the claim that ‘residence or citizenship’ is used ‘to escape from legal consequences’, the government of Antigua and Barbuda, through the competent legal authorities and through diplomatic channels, has cooperated fully with the Indian law enforcement authorities in all matters related to a request for the extradition of Mr. Choksi to India.

“The matter of Mr. Choksi’s extradition is now proceeding through the Court system as is the norm in all democratic countries,” it said, adding that “Antigua and Barbuda operates one of the most reputable investor immigration programmes in the world and …that it does not, in any way, provide protection or immunity for criminals or criminality”.

The government said that it “greatly values its relationship with the Government of India which has always been mutually supportive and beneficial in many international and intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations organizations and the Commonwealth”.

The government expressed “its deep concern about the content and effect of the statement by the Honourable Minister of Finance of India” and requested that “a clarification be made to the media on the same scale of the misleading original remarks”.

Under the CIP, several Caribbean countries, including Antigua and Barbuda, provide citizenship to foreign investors in return for making a substantial investment in the socio-economic development of these countries.