Diplomatic efforts on to bring back 'high-value' economic offenders

Indo Asian News Service

New Delhi/Georgetown, Jan 27 (IANS) Hectic diplomatic parleys have been mounted by the Indian government to get some "high value" economic offenders from West Indies amidst reports that a long-haul aircraft of Air India is being readied to bring them back.

India does not have a mission in St John's, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda -- the country where diamantaire Mehul Choksi has acquired citizenship. India also does not have an extradition treaty with Antigua. Recently, he had submitted his Indian passport to Antigua and Barbuda authorities amounting to giving up his Indian citizenship.

Officials in the Indian High Commission in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, which is concurrently accredited to Antigua, are as yet unaware of any operation to bring back the "assets", including diamantaire Mehul Choksi and Winsome Diamonds promoter Jatin Mehta, who have taken citizenship in the Caribbeans.

Sources in Delhi said the government of India through its high commission in Georgetown has taken up the matter of Mehul Choksi. It is understood the matter is still under consideration, they said.

The operation to bring back "high-value" economic offenders from the West Indies is likely to be concluded by Tuesday (January 29), sources had indicated on Saturday.

The mission involving a long-haul Air India jet, which has been pulled out of the fleet, will carry a team of investigating officers tasked to get hold of the fugitives. The number of "assets" being targeted is not yet known, though both Choksi and Mehta have taken citizenship in the Caribbeans.

The officials are tight-lipped but are on stand-by. Elaborate security arrangements have been put in place.

Mehta became a citizen of St Kitts and Nevis some years ago, while Choksi took Antigua and Barbuda citizenship recently. These islands provide visa-free travel to 132 countries. Both St. Kitts and Antigua have airfields that can accommodate wide-body aircraft. It is not clear if they would be picked from one location or multiple destinations.

The lack of extradition treaties has made these islands a safe haven for India's uber rich. Other countries such as Grenada, St Lucia and Dominica also have similar citizenship by investment programmes.

Dominica and St Lucia give citizenship and a valid passport for just $100,000 (over Rs 70 lakh), which is chump change for ultra-rich Indians on the run.