India Turns To UN To Get Mehul Choksi Back From Caribbean Haven

Mehul-Choksi
Mehul Choksi, (Photo by Priyanka Parashar/Mint via Getty Images)

By NAN Contributor

News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Thurs. Aug. 2, 2018: The Indian government is reportedly hoping the United Nations Convention against corruption will help them get Mehul Choksi, a co-accused in India’s biggest bank fraud detained and brought back from his Caribbean haven to answer fraud charges.

Choksi of the Gitanjali Group, who along with the main accused, Nirav Modi, his nephew, allegedly defrauded the Punjab National Bank (PNB), of nearly US $2 bn., has been holed up in the Caribbean island of Antigua & Barbuda since July 8th. He escaped India on January 4th on an Indian passport and took the oath of allegiance in Antigua & Barbuda on January 15th after applying for citizenship there under the country’s Citizenship by Investment Program.

India Today is now reporting that in absence of direct extradition between both India and Antigua, the best possible way to repatriate Choksi is under the United Nations Convention since both countries are members.

Antigua is legally bound to extradite Mehul Choksi under UN Convention rules.

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The United Nations Convention against Corruption

The United Nations Convention against Corruption is the only legally binding universal anti-corruption instrument. The Convention’s far-reaching approach and the mandatory character of many of its provisions make it a unique tool for developing a comprehensive response to a global problem. The Convention covers five main areas: preventive measures, criminalization and law enforcement, international cooperation, asset recovery, and technical assistance and information exchange. The Convention covers many different forms of corruption, such as bribery, trading in influence, abuse of functions, and various acts of corruption in the private sector. A highlight of the Convention is the inclusion of a specific chapter on asset recovery, aimed at returning assets to their rightful owners, including countries from which they had been taken illicitly. The vast majority of United Nations Member States are parties to the Convention.

Choksi and his nephew were jewelers to the stars in India and they allegedly, with help from some staffers at a PNB bank, raised billions of dollars in foreign credit on fake bank guarantees between 2011 and 2017.

The scam, which reportedly began in 2011, was only detected in January this year, but PNB officials reported it to the probe agencies in February.

The Antiguan government insists Choksi had obtained an Antiguan passport and his Antiguan citizenship November last year, months before the PNB scandal broke.

However, The CBI, the nodal agency of India for Interpol, said that no information regarding background check of Choksi was sought from it by the international agency while the Financial Express reports that a warrant was reportedly issued by Karnataka High Court against Choksi in 2016 in a separate matter.

Choksi, through his attorney, claims he had taken Antigua citizenship last year to expand his business as the passport of the Caribbean nation provides visa-free travel to 132 countries.

In a statement issued by his attorney David Dorsett on the diamantaire’s behalf, Choksi said there was no truth in the allegations leveled by the Indian government, the Daily Observer, a newspaper in Antigua reported.

He has also approached the High Court of Antigua asking it to block the India government’s move to detain and extradite him for his alleged role in the PNB scandal.

CIP IN THE SPOTLIGHT

The Choksi scandal puts another damper on the CIP programs pushed by Antigua & Barbuda as well as St. Kitts & Nevis, Dominica, Grenada and St. Lucia, as it continues to be dismissed as “passports for sale” to the wealthy and as tax havens for the rich to hide their wealth.

The U.S. State Department this year, in its annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), again slammed the Antigua CIP program. It said the country’s “CIU does not maintain adequate autonomy from politicians to prevent political interference in its decisions” and it pointed to the February 2017 approved CIP application for Alexandre Cazes, since deceased, the alleged operator of AlphaBay, the world’s largest dark web marketplace.

In January, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also slammed the program, saying his government will only consider lifting visa requirements for Antiguan and Barbudans if “significant improvements” were made to CIP.

Trudeau at the time said Antigua and Barbuda did not live up to the high standards expected of it and he stressed that Canada will not compromise the security of its citizens.

And the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, (OECD), has criticized the programs as “a backdoor to money-launderers and tax evaders.”

“While investors may be interested in these for legitimate reasons, including greater mobility because of visa-free travel, better education and job opportunities for children, or the right to live in a country with political stability, there is the potential for misuse,” the Paris-based organization said in February.

The Choksi case gives them the ammunition they need to keep piling on the critique as Antigua’s Opposition leader, Giselle Isaac, chairperson of United Progressive Party, has slammed Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne for being hand-in-glove with Choksi.

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