Antigua and Barbuda said it took all “reasonable steps to ensure” that an Indian national wanted in his country on alleged multi-million dollar criminal charges before granting him citizenship as allowed under the island’s Citizenship By Investment Act.
In a statement, the Citizenship By Investment Unit (CIU) said it wanted to clarify the situation surrounding the granting of citizenship to Mehul Chinubbhai Choksi so as to “address misinformation that has been circulating in the public domain”.
Choksi is allegedly wanted in India for a billion-dollar fraud with the Punjab National Bank. His attorney, David Dorsett, said that his client is maintaining his innocence despite the allegations against him as published in the Indian media.
“As Choksi said in a statement last week, there is no truth in the various allegations being made against him. It would appear that he is the unfortunate victim of political persecution.”
In its statement, the CIU said that Choksi’s application for citizenship was received in May 2017 with the necessary documentary requirements including a police clearance certificate.
It said the police clearance certificate from the Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs Regional Passport Office, Mumbai, certified that there was no adverse information against Choksi which would “render him ineligible for grant of travel facilities including visa for Antigua and Barbuda.
“As with all applications submitted to the CIU, Mr. Choksi’s application was subjected to stringent background checks which included open source internet checks, Thompson Reuters World-Check, queries of various sanctions lists, engagement with regional and international intelligence agencies to include INTERPOL as well as contracted 3rd Party due diligence providers. It was only after the results of all of these checks had been received and assessed that a final decision was taken on the application. In no instance was any derogatory information disclosed on the applicant.”
The CIU said that in the conduct of its due diligence, it received documentation of two instances in which the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), in 2014 and 2017, opened investigations on a corporate entity owned by Choksi.
“We requested updates on the status of the investigations and received documentary confirmation, issued by the SEBI stating that in one case, the matter had been satisfactorily closed, and indicating in the other that there is not sufficient evidence to pursue the matter further. None of these matters is the subject of the current warrants issued by Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) in connection with the Punjab National Bank. It was also observed that 2016 Non-bailable Warrant was discontinued in October 2016,” the CIU added.
It said that it’s “keen review of online reports on this matter note that India’s CBI has indicated that INTERPOL had not made direct contact with them requesting information on Choksi.
“The CIU maintains, that this comment notwithstanding, that its background investigations do in fact include INTERPOL. Were there an active warrant for Mr. Choksi at the time his citizenship application was being processed, this information should have already been made available to INTERPOL, a notification of which would have been readily accessible by the CIU and its due diligence partners. “Further, the warrant should have formed a part of the criminal records database in India and therefore declared in the police clearance certificate issued by Ministry of External Affairs.
“The CIU’s investigations revealed that notice of the current investigation was first issued by Indian authorities to law enforcement on 31st January 2018. As such, these matters emerged well after the background vetting process which would have resulted in the August 2017 approval of Mr. Choksi’s application and his subsequent registration as a citizen in November 2017.”
The CIU said that it wanted to assure the public that “it took all reasonable steps to ensure that Mr. Choksi was a fit and proper candidate for the grant of citizenship as allowed under the Antigua and Barbuda Citizenship By Investment Act”.
But in a press statement this week, the Securities and Exchange Board of India said it had taken note of a news item regarding the situation Choksi and that it “has neither received any request from the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) of Antigua for updates on any investigation nor provided any such information to CIU”.
Antigua and Barbuda is one of several Caribbean countries through which foreign investors are provided citizenship in return for making a substantive investment in the socio-economic development of these countries.
The others include St. Kitts-Nevis, Grenada, St. Lucia and Dominica.
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