(MENAFN - Caribbean News Now) Minister of Finance for the Government of India, Nirmala Sitharaman
ST JOHNS, Antigua – The government of Antigua and Barbuda has expressed its disappointment and concern over a statement reported to have been made by Nirmala Sitharaman, minister of finance for the government of India, concerning Antigua and Barbuda's Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programme and Mehul Choksi.
According to the reports by several Indian media outlets, available on the internet, the Indian finance minister stated that several jurisdictions allow 'economic offenders to use investment-based schemes to obtain residence or citizenship to escape from legal consequences and underlined the need to deal with such practices.' In particular, the minister is reported to have drawn attention to the case of Mehul Choksi, who, it is claimed, 'surrendered his Indian passport to become a citizen of the Caribbean country Antigua and Barbuda under its Citizenship by Investment (CIP) scheme.'
In a robust response the government of Antigua and Barbuda, by diplomatic note to the Indian government, made it clear 'that, contrary to minister's claim, Choksi did not 'surrender his Indian passport to become a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda under its Citizenship by Investment (CIP) scheme.'
The government set out the facts as follows:
'Choksi applied for Antigua and Barbuda citizenship by investment and was subjected to vetting of his background by Interpol which was provided with written and official clearance from the police authorities in India, attesting that he had no criminal record and was not wanted or being investigated for any crime.
'Choksi was granted citizenship only after the competent police authorities in India gave him official clearance.
'He was under no obligation whatsoever to surrender his Indian passport to become a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda under its investment programme. Any decision he made to surrender his Indian passport had nothing to do with the Antigua and Barbuda citizenship programme.'
In its note to the Indian government, the foreign ministry of Antigua and Barbuda declared that, 'contrary to the claim that 'residence or citizenship' is used 'to escape from legal consequences', the government of Antigua and Barbuda, through the competent legal authorities and through diplomatic channels, has cooperated fully with the Indian law enforcement authorities in all matters related to a request for the extradition of Choksi to India. The matter of Choksi's extradition is now proceeding through the court system as is the norm in all democratic countries.'
The foreign minister emphasised that Antigua and Barbuda operate one of the most reputable investor immigration programmes in the world and stressed that it does not, in any way, provide protection or immunity for criminals or criminality.
Noting that the government of Antigua and Barbuda, 'greatly values its relationship with the government of India which has always been mutually supportive and beneficial in many international and intergovernmental organisations such as the United Nations organisations and the Commonwealth,' the ministry of foreign affairs expressed 'its deep concern about the content and effect of the statement by the honourable minister of finance of India' and requested that 'a clarification be made to the media on the same scale of the misleading original remarks.'