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In Antigua Since 2018, Is Mehul Choksi Still an Indian Citizen? What the Law Says

File photo of fugitve businessman Mehul Choksi.

File photo of fugitve businessman Mehul Choksi.

Indian law gives the government the power to decide whether someone's citizenship is to be revoked after they acquire a foreign passport.

The citizenship of fugitive businessman Mehul Choksi, whose purported ‘eloping’ to Dominica from Antigua where he had fled to escape the Indian law in 2018 after an alleged multicrore scam, holds the key to his extradition back home.

India has sent a private jet loaded with documents for his deportation from Dominica where he is said to have gone with his girlfriend on a romantic escapade. The Dominica High Court has stayed his removal from its soil and put a gag order on the developments till the matter is heard in an open court tomorrow.

Vijay Aggarwal, Choksi’s lawyer, says the tainted diamantaire got Antiguan citizenship in January 2018 and since that day he ceases to be an Indian citizen. He cites Section 9 of the Indian Citizenship Act 1955 to strengthen his claim.

“Termination of citizenship” or Section 9 of the Indian Citizenship Act confirms that “Any citizen of India who by naturalisation, registration otherwise voluntarily acquires the citizenship of another country shall, upon such acquisition or, as the case may be, such commencement, cease to be a citizen of India.”

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But this termination of citizenship status comes with riders.

Legal speak

The same section also provides exceptions says senior lawyer Swapnil Kothari. “Section 9 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 stipulates that if you have voluntarily acquired a foreign country’s citizenship, you cease to be a citizen of India but at the same time, it empowers the authority (i.e. Central Government) to determine whether, when or how the person in question has acquired the citizenship of the other country.”

Sub-section 2 of Section 9 of the Indian Citizenship Act also deals with questions raised when certain Indian citizens acquire foreign citizenship. “In essence, sub-section 2 scuttles the direct effect of sub-section (1) of Section 9, in the sense that in certain cases such as in criminal proceedings, the acquirer of a foreign citizenship will have to explain the circumstances behind taking a foreign citizenship and satisfy the Central Government, which has the absolute discretion to take a final call,” adds Kothari.

Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi are alleged to be involved in a financial fraud worth 13,600 crore with India’s second-largest public sector lender Punjab National Bank. They both fled India in January 2018. Nirav Modi is in Britain facing an extradition case while Choksi fled to Antigua.

Sheer chance or pre-planned strategy?

Choksi says he applied for citizenship of Antigua in 2017, well before the probe began in the PNB scam. He took an oath of Antiguan citizenship in January 2018. Incidentally, it was on January 29, 2018, when CBI registered the first criminal case against both of them in a scam of Rs 280 crore and filed an FIR on January 31.

Choksi surrendered his Indian passport in September 2018. By the time, the scale of the PNB fraud had become much larger, over 13,000 crore, with many more criminal cases of financial fraud slapped against the two high-profile jewellers.

Naturally, India will not cancel the citizenship of a financial absconder when Choksi decided to renounce his Indian citizenship, says Kothari, “Choksi is an absconder and a probable fugitive, which on an overview of Section 9, facilitates the decision of the Central Government into still retaining him as an Indian Citizen subject to and answerable under the Indian law.”

Section 18 of the Indian Citizenship Act also confers powers to the central government to make further rules as and when required.

Using this article, the Ministry of Home Affairs enacted 43 rules in 2009 to further streamline the citizenship process and rule 23 of this addition makes it tangibly clear that any Indian citizen who is going to acquire or has acquired foreign citizenship must disclose before the authorities (here Ministry of Home Affair) the circumstances in “which the applicant acquired or intends to acquire foreign citizenship.”

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