Will a landmark Choksi court case expose Indian authorities?


Exclusive by Andrew Peretti

Two years after Mehul Choksi’s alleged kidnapping in Antigua, there is still no official insight into exactly what happened.

The Antiguan authorities defending a case against Choksi will reply “hopefully” by September, the Deputy Solicitor General of Antigua told Observer.

Choksi, the owner of the Indian retail jewellery company Gitanjali Group, is wanted by Indian authorities for his alleged role in a US$1.8 billion fraud against the Punjab National Bank.

Choksi brought a case last year against the Antiguan and Barbudan state, claiming his kidnapping in 2021 had not been properly investigated.

He believes the Indian authorities were responsible for it. In an Antigua High Court judgement in March 2023, Judge Marissa Roberston [para75] agreed that “at least initially” Choksi’s version of events was supported by an Antiguan police report.

That police report stated: “Facts are aligning with Mr Choksi’s unofficial version of the events that led to his appearance in the state of Dominica. The plethora of real and circumstantial evidence makes it clear that a case of kidnapping with broad collusion among multiple conspirators exists” [Para 23].

Choksi had stated as part of his affidavit “It seems to me entirely obvious that the Indian government is behind my abduction and ill-treatment”.

Other parts of Choksi’s testimony were struck out, including information he claimed was from unnamed sources in the Antigua and Barbuda government.

An Indian lawyer, involved in previous extradition proceedings and not authorised to speak to the media, even referred to the March 2023 judgement as a “landmark decision” in judicial circles.

Choksi is not only taking aim at the twin-island nation for not effectively investigating his alleged kidnapping but he is also laying blame on the Indian authorities.

Another senior lawyer from Antigua who has regularly taken matters up to the Privy Council – Antigua and Barbuda’s final appellate court said on condition of anonymity, “I don’t think, quite frankly, I would have been brave enough to bring such a claim or a case” because the case is being waged against the state (the Attorney General and the Police Commissioner).

The incident came to light in the Indian media after a photo of Choksi behind bars in Dominica circulated in May 2021. Choksi had turned up illegally on the shores of Dominica from Antigua. Choksi claims he was targeted by an Indian intelligence operation.

His account contains graphic details of being tied up, threatened with a knife and made to endure a 16-hour boat ride to Dominica with his captors – two of whom he believes were of Indian origin.

Choksi has assembled a high-profile legal team against Antiguan state which includes Justin Simon KC, the former Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda for 10 years, and British lawyer Edward Fitzgerald KC, who has previously represented high-profile clients including Julian Assange and Silvio Berlusconi.

The Antiguan authorities had 28 days to reply to the High Court order but were granted an extension. “Hopefully before the new court term starts [in September], we would have a defence,” said Carla Brookes-Harris, the Deputy Solicitor General.

The eventual court decision will likely also determine the prospects of extraditing Choksi back to India. Antiguan lawyer David Dorsett, who previously represented Choksiand deals with extradition cases, claims, “it appears on the face of it that the Indian government had a hand in the whole matter” and “unless that spectre is removed, there will be no prospect… absolutely no prospect of Mr Choksi being extradited”.

Indian authorities, clearly keen to extradite Choksi, have been chasing the Antiguan authorities over the outcome of the matter. Whilst Antigua and Barbuda is the only Caribbean island with extradition arrangements with India, it appears Choksi cannot be extradited whilst the legal proceedings in the country are in progress.

The Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda, SteadRoy Benjamin, told Observer, “The Indians have been asking us questions and we have made it repeatedly clear that our system is based on the British system. We have to wait till the court rules, we follow the court’s orders… We respect the law, we respect the rights of every citizen in this country.”

Beyond Choksi’s extradition is the international significance of the decision. At the apex of Antigua’s legal system is the Privy Council. Its decisions are regarded as “having great weight and persuasive value” by the UK Supreme Court.

In a separate extradition case in the UK (reported on by this writer), Choksi’s barrister, Edward Fitzgerald KC, had even stated one has to “qualify” the statement that India“abides by the rule of law”.

“Any adverse outcome would be pointed to by other courts around the world,” noted the aforementioned Indian extradition lawyer.

Despite the ongoing proceedings, Interpol – the International Criminal Police Organisation – seems to have already made its mind up.

In March 2022, Interpol chose to remove its Red Notice and, by extension, the global arrest warrant. The Red Notice had been in force since December 2018 following requests from Indian authorities.

Reports in local Indian media had suggested Interpol had found credence in the allegations that Indian agencies had attempted to abductChoksi from Antigua. Whilst this was fervently challenged by Indian authorities, Interpol search register still does not display any Red Notice forChoksi.Not all commentators buy Choksi’s version of events.

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