The Indian government has told the Dominican High Court that it had informed fugitive businessman Mehul Choksi in March 2019 that his application for giving up his Indian citizenship had been rejected, the Hindustan Times reported. Choksi did not challenge the Indian home ministry’s refusal, the government said in an affidavit.
Section 8 of India’s Citizenship Act, 1955, says a person ceases to be a citizen of the country only after registration declaration by the prescribed authority, which is the home ministry in this case.
The affidavit, filed by the Ministry of External Affairs’ Consular Officer Azad Singh, sought to “declare Choksi as an Indian citizen” and “deport him to India”.
Choksi has been in judicial custody in Dominica since May 24, charged with illegally entering the country. He had been reported missing by his family on May 23 from Antigua and Barbuda, before being held in Dominica on May 26.
The Indian government’s submission to the Dominican court is significant as Choksi’s lawyers have argued against his deportation to India, citing that he had surrendered his Indian citizenship and passport to authorities in Antigua and Barbuda in January 2019. In August 2018, Choksi claimed he had “lawfully applied” to become a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda to expand his business interests in the Caribbean. This was after he fled India in January 2018, a few weeks before the Rs 13,000-crore Punjab National Bank fraud case came to light, in which Choksi is wanted in India.
In its affidavit, the Indian government has said that Choksi never made the request to give up his citizenship “in person”, but sent it directly to the Indian high commission in Guyana, which is in contradiction with the rules under the Citizenship Act, 1955. The affidavit also said that Choksi did not present his request in the prescribed format, the Hindustan Times reported.
The foreign ministry has also argued against the contention made by Choksi’s lawyer Vijay Aggarwal, stating that “a person automatically ceases to be citizen in India if he acquires citizenship of another country, according to Section 9 of the Citizenship Act”.
The Indian government has, however, said that Choksi obtained Antigua’s citizenship “fraudulently”, and so the claim under Section 9 cannot be maintained.
Hearing adjourned in illegal entry case
Meanwhile, on Monday, a magistrate court in Dominica adjourned the hearing in the illegal entry case against Choksi till June 25, PTI reported. Choksi did not turn up for hearing on Monday, as his lawyers submitted a medical certificate, which mentioned that he was suffering from mental stress and elevated blood pressure.
Chief Magistrate Carette-George adjourned the matter to June 25 and ordered to keep Choksi under watch at the Dominica China Friendship Hospital, where he is currently lodged.
The judge also asked authorities to present Choksi before the court on June 17 for further remand.