Leader of the Opposition Lennox Linton has issued a statement asking for an immediate and thorough investigation into Dominica’s handling of wanted Indian fugitive Mehul Choksi, who was apprehended by police last week after, according to them, he arrived illegally by boat at Toucari.
In his statement, similar to comments he made in international media recently, Linton raised questions over what he considers are questionable circumstances surrounding Choksi’s arrival and arrest in Dominica.
The opposition leader demanded that the probe examine the actions of Dominica’s government, police, customs officials and ministers who “instructed and/or influenced” the actions of local authorities to “unlawfully facilitate the inhumane transfer of Choksi to Dominica.”
Choksi is wanted in India after allegedly cheating the Punjab National Bank of billions of dollars. He is facing charges of criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, cheating and dishonesty including delivery of property, corruption, and money laundering.
In his statement, Linton accused the Roosevelt Skerrit Administration of an “obvious collaboration” with the governments of Antigua and Barbuda and India “in undermining the judiciary in the Eastern Caribbean.”
He pointed to what he described as “extremely disturbing” facts about Choksi’s arrival in Dominica, which he opines are indicative of government alleged “involvement” in the “abduction and smuggling of criminally accused economic citizens across international borders.”
“We demand urgent remedial action to remove the stain from this unfortunate incident on the image of Dominica and restore our country’s reputation as a responsible member of the family of nations, diligently carrying out the rule of law responsibilities of international development,” the opposition leader said.
The points raised in Linton’s statement are as follows:
“The operators of the Vincentian registered, St Lucia based schooner on which Choksi was transported to Dominica on May 23rd, 2021 declared three crew members and two Indian passengers, not including Choksi, to the authorities on departure from Antigua and Barbuda;”
“Choksi arrived in Dominica with no passport and no personal belongings. The two Indian passengers on the Schooner were taken into Covid 19 quarantine, and Choksi who was met by senior Police Officers when he came ashore was detained in a police cell and then quarantined on May 28th, 2021 – five days later;”
“On May 25th, 2021, the operators of the schooner made a false declaration to the Dominica Customs Authority that they arrived in Dominica on May 25th, 2021 with three crew members and two passengers, not including Choksi. Notwithstanding the false declaration, the schooner was cleared by Customs to leave for St Lucia on the same day, May 25th, 2021;”
“After Choksi’s lawyers filed a Habeas Corpus petition in the Dominica High Court, Police charged Choksi with illegal entry into Dominica;”
“With Choksi in police custody in Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne asked Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit to deport him to India and not to Antigua and Barbuda. He subsequently confirmed that a private jet of Qatar Executive Airlines arrived in Dominica on May 28th, 2021 from New Delhi with documents from the Indian government indicating that Choksi is a fugitive from justice;”
“The High Court Judge in Dominica placed a gag order on lawyers in the Habeas Corpus matter preventing them from saying anything to the media until conclusion of the matter; and the airport staff have been instructed that taking pictures of the Bombardier Global 5000 jet of Qatar Executive airlines is strictly prohibited.”
Further to these issues, Linton was adamant that the police exhibited “unusual and calculatedly discriminatory behavior” by taking Choksi into custody but declining to question the crew and passengers who brought him to Dominica allegedly against his will. This, he said, “seems to confirm that police, immigration and customs officials were instructed by higher authorities in the Office of the Prime Minister and/or the Cabinet of Ministers.”
Speaking to International news source www.wionnews.com about his concerns, Linton said that, “The only reason the government is keeping it under wraps and not wanting that people should know about it is because the government is embarrassed by the action it took to facilitate this transaction.”
Choksi has lived in Antigua and Barbuda since 2018 after obtaining citizenship from that country in 2017. He was reported missing last Sunday by his wife Priti. This prompted a police search for him. However, it was later confirmed that Choksi was in the custody of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Dominica.
His local attorneys informed media that their client said he was kidnapped from Antigua and taken to Dominica by boat, during which time he was beaten and shocked in the eye and other areas of the body.
According to one of his Lawyers, Wayne Marsh, Choksi’s fear is that the Indian, Dominican and Antiguan governments are all involved in what he described as his “abduction” – a position borne out by the Antigua prime minister’s request for Dominican authorities to repatriate Choksi to India.
Laywers complained that they were denied access by local police to speak with their client and that authorities were attempting to have him removed from Dominica and returned to Antigua
The Ministry of National Security on May 27, released a statement informing of the “possibility” of Choski being sent back to Antigua.
On May 28, High Court Judge, Justice Birnie Stephenson issued a gag order restricting information or comments from being made publicly by the attorneys involved in the case of the Indian fugitive.
While India has an extradition arrangement with Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica isn’t among the 58 countries with which New Delhi has either extradition treaties or arrangements.
In cases involving countries with which India does not have an extradition arrangement, the repatriation of fugitives largely depends on decisions made by local authorities
Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne has told media that Antigua does not want Choksi to be sent back and that it would prefer for him to be directly repatriated from Dominica to India.
Anitiguanewsroom.com reported on May 29 that Browne confirmed that India sent a private jet – a Bombardier Global 5,000 jet of Qatar Executive – through the Dominica’s Douglas Charles airport on Saturday, to get Choksi repatriated directly from Dominica.
“My understanding is that [the] Indian government has sent certain documentation from courts in India to confirm that Choksi is indeed a fugitive” the website quoted Browne, who confirmed that the papers will be used in court on Wednesday.