Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne has yet again pushed for fugitive Mehul Choksi’s direct deportation to India calling him an Indian citizen. Browne has also accused the opposition, United Progressive Party, of striking a deal with Choksi for political campaign funding in elections in return for protection.
“It’s a red herring”, Browne told CNN-News18. “Choksi changed his lawyer to a well-known member of the UPP; former attorney general under the UPP, Justin Simon. We have it on reliable authority that the UPP had promised Choksi protection, for campaign funding. That is why they are so vehement, that he should not be deported from Dominica to India, but back to Antigua where he could continue to hide behind the constitutional protections of citizenship,” the Antigua PM added.
On opposition’s attack on Browne for leaving Choksi high and dry, Browne said, “The claim that my request for the government of Dominica to deport him directly to India is in violation of Choksi’s constitutional rights, is preposterous. My administration has acted always with probity and we continue to cooperate with the governments of India and Dominica, to have him deported directly to India.”
As per Prime Minister Browne, Choksi enjoys no such right in Dominica as an illegal alien and since he is not within the jurisdiction of Antigua & Barbuda, they have no jurisdiction over him and therefore cannot violate his constitutional rights by asking for his direct deportation to India to face charges against him.
Opposition hits Back at Browne, Claims Pressure from Indian Government
Meanwhile, the opposition has hit back at Browne for “undermining the judiciary in Antigua” and “acting under pressure of the Indian Government”.
When CNN-News18 contacted Choksi’s attorney and former attorney general of Antigua, Justin Simon, he rubbished the allegations claiming there was no promise of protection to Choksi or any monetary donation received by the United Progressive Party.
“I was appointed Attorney General under the UPP administration, and served for 10 years from April 2004. I continue to support the Party but I am not an Executive or a Constituency Branch member. I am unaware of any relationship between Choksi and the UPP or of any monetary donation by Choksi as the PM claims, nor has there been any promise of protection,” Simon said.
“The UPP has simply stated that the judicial process should be allowed to continue and that the government should respect his legal and constitutional rights. In my view, the PM’s rash statements undermine the rule of law, and shows absolutely no regard for the judicial process. It was under his administration that Choksi obtained citizenship. Should I now question the legitimacy of that grant now that it has been made public that during the application process, Choksi was under investigation in India? The PM’s glibness of tongue in this serious matter is cause for speculation and much concern,” he further said.
Simon claimed that there has been no attempt to revoke Choksi’s citizenship and two cases in court in which the government is represented by Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan from the Commonwealth of Dominica address only the extradition request, and the constitutionality of the government process. “The PM is no doubt concerned over the pressure being brought to bear by the Indian government, and is anxious to short-circuit the court process, even if his statements undermine the independence of the Judiciary”, Simon says.
“Today it is Choksi; tomorrow it might be me. The issue of Choksi’s wrong financial conduct in India is not before our courts. Simply put, as a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda he can and has exercised his right to challenge the extradition request, just as Leroy King, an ALP stalwart, did when his extradition was requested by the USA for his role in R Allen Stanford’s pyramid scheme which resulted in economic fallout and job losses in our country,” Simon further told CNN-News18.
Did Choksi Family Enter a Deal with Dominica Leader of the Opposition?
Caribbean media outlet Associates Times has reported that Mehul Choksi’s brother Chetan Chinu Bhai Choksi met the leader of opposition of Dominica, Lennox Linton, in Marigot on the evening of May 30. “The meeting lasted for 2 hours in Lennox Linton’s home, where they discussed several aspects related to Mehul Choksi’s arrest and agreed on the commitment that in exchange for token money and promise of election donation, the opposition leader will press the matter in Parliament”, the media group reported.
Associated Press further reports, “Mehul Choksi’s younger brother Chetan Chinu Bhai Choksi got into an agreement with the Dominican opposition leader and promised him election funding for pushing the abduction theory. It was learnt that Choksi’s cousin disclosed during the conversation that Choksi has reached Dominica on his own, but they require the assistance of opposition to tackle the matter in court and against the Dominica government to make them believe that he was abducted by Antiguan and Indian police.”
“It is believed that Chetan Choksi even gave token money of $200,000 to Lennox Linton and promised him more than a million-dollar of financial assistance in the upcoming general elections. Chinu Bhai also asked the LOP to raise the matter in parliament and issue statements favouring Mehul Choksi”, the report further mentioned.
Mehul Choksi is likely to be presented before the court later today at 6:30pm Indian Standard Time where the Dominica High Court is likely to take a call on his deportation to India. Earlier on June 1, India along with Dominica Police submitted affidavits in Court with proof that Mehul Choksi was a fugitive who had escaped India. The affidavits also include Indian passport copy of Mehul Choksi which proves that he still is an Indian Citizen.