- No request from India for Mehul Choksi access: Antigua foreign minister
- Antigua's citizenship scheme has been criticized for not being stringent
- Mehul Choksi was given Antigua's citizenship in November last year
Antigua's government will "honour any legitimate request" to extradite fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi who became a citizen of the archetypal Caribbean islands before the $2 billion fraud at state-run Punjab National Bank came to light, Foreign Minister EP Chet Greene has said, according to a report in Antigua's The Daily Observer newspaper.
The minister's public assurance given after a cabinet meeting on Thursday is a setback to Mehul Choksi, who is a key accused in bank fraud cases at PNB, and was seen to have gone beyond the reach of investigators by getting himself a new country.
But the Caribbean twin-island state of Antigua and Barbuda has made it clear that it would not allow the absence of a treaty stand in the way.
Mr Greene told reporters on Thursday that his government had not received any request from Indian government for access to the fugitive billionaire.
"However, if a request is received, we will honour any legitimate request made of us notwithstanding that we do not have any extradition agreements with India," the foreign minister said, according to the newspaper report.
"That is the extent of our commitment to preserving the integrity of our (Citizenship by Investment) programme," Mr Greene said.
Mehul Choksi, who owns Gitanjali Gems, was granted Antigua's citizenship in November last year under its controversial Citizenship Investment Program launched a few years earlier to tap into the global citizenship market estimated to be worth $ 2 billion.
Antigua's scheme that lets the world's wealthy pick up a second passport, however, has been sharply criticised because it is not perceived to be stringent enough.
Last year, Canada revoked its visa-free privilege for Antigua and Barbuda's 1.1 lakh population over concerns that its citizenship investment program could be abused by third-country nationals and its identity management practices weak. The US State Department had already labelled its citizenship program as "among the most lax in the world".
Back in Antigua that attracts thousands of tourists to its 365 largely pristine beaches, there have already been calls for introducing stringent checks so that its passport does not lose visa-free access to any more countries.
Holders of the Antigua and Barbuda passport enjoy visa free travel to approximately 132 countries, including the UK, Singapore and the countries of the Schengen area.
Mehul Choksi's surprise statement this week that he had taken up the citizenship of the twin island-nation "to expand my business interest in the Caribbean" and obtain visa-free travel access to 132 countries is seen in this context. The statement is seen as an effort to underline that the idea wasn't to escape the law.