INDIA has come a vital step closer to securing the extradition of fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi, who is wanted in the Rs 13,500-crore bank loan fraud case. New Delhi is banking on cooperation from Antigua and Barbuda, the Caribbean country Choksi had fled to in January 2018, days before the scam came to light, and Dominica, where he is presently detained. India is also hopeful of bringing back another runaway diamantaire, Choksi’s nephew Nirav Modi, whose extradition was approved by the UK government in April this year. These are promising developments for the Narendra Modi government, which has been repeatedly accused of not doing enough to catch the big fish. However, it is way too early for the ruling dispensation to celebrate or pat itself on the back.
Eradicating corruption and retrieving black money stashed abroad were the major promises that had propelled the BJP-led NDA to power in 2014. However, the long list of fugitive economic offenders living outside India continues to be a thorn in the government’s flesh. In July 2018, the Centre had told the Lok Sabha that the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate were pursuing legal action to bring back 28 Indians, including Choksi, Nirav Modi, businessman Vijay Mallya and former IPL chief Lalit Modi. The Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018, was enacted with the objective of deterring such elements from evading the process of law in India.
India has extradition treaties/arrangements with 58 countries, including Antigua and Barbuda, but none with Dominica. It’s obvious that Choksi and his ilk will try every trick in the book to escape extradition — right from citing the virulence of the Covid pandemic in India to ‘below-par’ conditions in Indian prisons. The Centre must be prepared for the long haul and proactively address all issues that can delay the fugitives’ return. Extradition, however, will be only half the battle won. The bigger challenge is to take the cases to their logical conclusion by completing the trial in a time-bound manner and convicting the culprits. Ensuring comeuppance for those who have ridden roughshod over Indian laws would be the ultimate deterrence.