Antigua and Barbuda group of islands has assured the Indian government that it will consider its request to extradite Mehul Choksi, co-accused in the Rs 13,600 crore Punjab National Bank loan fraud. The development comes as a shot in the arm for Indian investigative agencies and the government who have been criticised for letting him slip out of the country.
India Today has learnt that Antiguan authorities have informed India that Choksi can still be extradited despite the absence of an extradition treaty since both the countries are members of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Additional Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Manpreet Vohra met Antiguan foreign external affairs minister E Paul Chet Greene late on Friday night and handed over the extradition request.
Antigua, according to sources, also confirmed the presence of Choksi on its soil. Both the nations have figured out that Choksi's extradition can take place under provisions of Antigua's Extradition Act, 1993.
Paving the way for Choksi's extradition, India has also notified the Extradition Act, 1962 on August 3. "In exercise of the powers conferred by the subsection (1) of section 3 of the Extradition Act, 1962, the Central Government hereby directs that the provisions of the Extradition Act, 1962, shall apply with respect to Antigua and Barbuda with effect from August 3, 2018, as a Designated Commonwealth Country under the provisions of Extradition Act, 1993, of Antigua and Barbuda," the government notified.
The Central Bureau of Investigation sent the request under United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), which is the only legally binding universal anti-corruption instrument. Both India and Antigua are members of the treaty due to which St John's is legally bound to extradite Choksi.
UNCAC covers five main areas: preventive measures, criminalisation and law enforcement, international cooperation, asset recovery, technical assistance and information exchange. It also covers several other forms of corruption such as bribery, trading in influence, abuse of functions and various acts of dubious deals in the private sector.
UNCAC aims at returning assets to their rightful owners, including countries from which they have been taken illicitly. Choksi, who now has a citizenship of Antigua, fled from India on January 4.
He was in the US till July 7, but before the agencies started the process to bring him back, he fled to Antigua and since then he is holed up in the Caribbean nation. Antiguan authorities claim that he was given citizenship after clearances from the MEA.