The Mehul Choksi Saga: What's His Citizenship Status?

The new status of Mehul Choksi goes against the claim of his lawyer who had said that Choksi did not enter Dominica illegally.

Fugitive diamond merchant Mehul Choksi, the prime accused in the Rs 13,500 crore Punjab National Bank fraud case, has now been declared a 'prohibited immigrant' in Dominica.

This would mean that the Indian government has an edge now in the deportation battle. The new status of Mehul Choksi goes against the claim of his lawyer. Last week, he had said that Choksi did not enter Dominica illegally and the police there cannot arrest him as he is not a "prohibited immigrant". A 'prohibited immigrant' is someone who belongs to any of the prohibited classes as defined by the law and is not a citizen.

According to a notice issued by Dominica's ministry of national security and home affairs, Mehul Choksi was declared a prohibited immigrant on May 25. "You are, therefore, not permitted to enter the Commonwealth of Dominica and the Chief of Police has been instructed to take all the necessary actions to have you repatriated," the note read.

Being declared a 'prohibited immigrant' would also mean bursting holes in Choksi's abduction story.

Mehul Choksi had mysteriously gone missing on May 23 from Antigua and Barbuda, where he has been staying as a citizen since 2018. He was detained in the neighbouring island country of Dominica for illegal entry. Choksi's lawyers alleged that he was abducted from Jolly Harbour in Antigua by policemen looking like Antiguan and Indian, and brought to Dominica on a boat.

Authorities claim he was arrested on May 25 after he entered the country.

What Does Choksi Have To Say?

Mehul Choksi was given Antiguan citizenship in November 2017. But his mysterious disappearance from Antigua and Barbuda has led to a long tale. His lawyer has said that he was kidnapped from Jolly Harbour in Antigua and brought to Dominica on a boat.

"We said that he was kidnapped and didn't go to Dominica of his own free will. Under section 6 of Dominica's Passport and Immigration Act, he is not a prohibited immigrant, therefore he has not committed any crime and Dominica police cannot arrest him," Choksi's lawyer Vijay Aggarwal claimed last week.

One of the 'abductors', Choksi has claimed is Barbara Jarabica. Barbara Jarabica, described as Mehul Choksi's "girlfriend" or the "honey trap", who helped in his abduction has now become a person of keen interest in solving the mystery.

Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Brown has called Barbara Jarabica Choksi's girlfriend with whom he willingly travelled to Dominica "to have a good time". However, Choksi's lawyer and his wife Priti have suggested Barbara may have been part of an Indian operation to extract Choksi out of Antigua and deport him to India through Dominica.

In an interview to The Indian Express, Choksi's wife said her husband had been befriended by Jarabica during morning walks. She said he was invited for dinner to an apartment near Jolly Harbour in Antigua on May 23 from where he was abducted by 8-10 men who brutally beat him up. He was then allegedly forced into a yacht before being ferried to Dominica.

But Barbara Jarabica has rubbished the charges of being involved in his kidnapping, while also clarifying that she is just a "friend" of the businessman, who had introduced himself to her as Raj. She also said that she had no inkling about Choksi's fraudulent business dealings in India, and that everything about him "seemed really normal and he always seemed like a good friend".

"There are a lot of crazy Netfix-like stories going around in the news; whether it was that I was having dinner with him in Dominica, or I was having dinner with him in Jolly Harbour, on the way. That I was on the yacht, and then I wasn't on the yacht. But I am sorry, there are a lot of stories that they've been trying to make up," she told CNN-News18 in an interview.

Side note: There's a Netflix show on Choksi. And Choksi wanted to watch the Netflix show 'Bad Boy Billionaires: India' before everyone else. He knew he was featured in it. The online streaming service opposed the plea saying that pre-publication censorship is "entirely impermissible". Netflix refuted Choksi's claims of fundamental right to trial being affected by the documentary, submitting that he has "admittedly forsaken his citizenship in order to defeat the jurisdiction of Indian courts," and is an "absconder".

Last week, arguing that Choksi is not a citizen of India as Article 9 of the Indian Constitution states that any person who acquires citizenship of a foreign country will automatically cease to be an Indian citizen, his legal team has told the Dominican court that he cannot be directly repatriated to India.

Why Does The Govt Say He Is an Indian Citizen?

The government has, however, claimed that Choksi is an Indian national and not a citizen of Antigua. Mehul Choksi had applied for Antiguan citizenship based on a character report from Mumbai Police in May 2017.

India Today spoke to officials who said that Choksi did not surrender his Indian citizenship and neither did he complete the formalities to cancel it. India does not allow dual citizenship and holding an Indian passport or acquiring an Indian passport or travelling on an Indian passport after acquisition of foreign citizenship constitutes an offence under the Indian Passport Act, 1967, and attracts penalties.

So, the Indian government has held that Choksi is an Indian citizen because he didn't surrender his Indian passport after getting his foreign citizenship and that his Aadhaar card and pan card reflect that he is an Indian national.

Last week, Dominica's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit had referred to Choksi as an Indian citizen.

So, Choksi is now left with no permanent citizenship except that of India. Before Dominica's Internal Security Minister Rayburn Blackmoore declared Choksi a 'prohibited immigrant' Antigua had declared that he is not their citizen. Last week, Antigua information minister Melford Nicholas said that when fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi applied for citizenship, his name didn't appear in any of the agencies who would able to give an attestation as to whether there was a charge against him or not. Antigua has moved to rescind Choksi's citizenship under the point that he made 'false declaration'. Choksi has challenged that in court.

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