'Choksi to return only after exhausting legal options'

Choksi and fellow diamantaire Nirav Modi are the two key accused in the multi-crore Punjab National Bank fraud that surfaced last year, much embarrassment to the NDA government.

The return of fugitive diamond merchant Mehul Choksi to face trial in India for the Rs 14,000 crore PNB scam could happen only after he finished his legal options in the wake of Antigua rescinding his citizenship, Indian government sources confirmed here on Tuesday.

While the Ministry of External Affairs was yet to hear from Antigua, officials responded to the media reports quoting Antiguan Prime Minister that Choksi's citizenship would be revoked.

Choksi and fellow diamantaire Nirav Modi are the two key accused in the multi-crore Punjab National Bank fraud that surfaced last year, much embarrassment to the NDA government.

Choksi first absconded and later took Antiguan citizenship after giving up his Indian passport. Subsequently, New Delhi mounted diplomatic pressure on Antigua to cancel Choksi's citizenship and send him back to India to face the trial.

On Tuesday reports appeared in the Caribbean press quoting Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne that Choksi's citizenship would be withdrawn shortly.

Browne, however, maintained that even as a criminal Choksi would have legal options to fight his case under the island nation's laws.

"I can assure you after he has exhausted all of his legal options, he will be extradited. His citizenship was processed; he got through but the reality is his citizenship will be revoked and he will be repatriated to India; so there is recourse. It’s not a case that we are trying to provide any safe harbour for criminals, for those who are involved in financial crimes,” Browne was quoted in the local newspapers as saying.

“We have to allow for due process. He has a matter before the court and as we said to the Indian Government, criminals have fundamental rights, too, and Choksi has a right to go to court and defend his position. But I can assure you after he has exhausted all of his legal options, he will be extradited,” the Antiguan Prime Minister said.

The extradition process against Choksi, one of the prime accused in the multi-crore Punjab National Bank scam, began in March 2019.

Asked to comment about the developments, government sources said, “India waits for Antigua's internal process of revoking citizenship. Only after that extradition process can start separately. India continues to engage with Antigua. MEA yet to hear officially from Antiguan government about revoking of citizenship.”

Sources said that Antigua's internal decision would be having little impact on the extradition process, which would be a separate process.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar refused to comment on the developments.

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