NEW DELHI: The findings of “I-onAsia”, a global risk management and investigation company, played an instrumental role in the Antigua and Barbuda High Court’s recent decision to ask the police to investigate the kidnapping claims made by fugitive Mehul Choksi. These findings were also submitted by Choksi’s legal team in front of Interpol which later removed his name from the Red Corner “Most Wanted” list, much to the disappointment of India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The Sunday Guardian spoke to Oliver Laurence who is the Managing Partner of I-onAsia and handled Choksi’s case from the company’s office in London. Edited excerpts.
Q: What is your and your organization’s role in this entire matter?
A: My role in this matter is to investigate the circumstances around the disappearance of Mr Mehul Choksi in May 2021 and provide the evidence that we have uncovered to Mr Choksi’s legal team, led by Mr Edward Fitzgerald KC and Mr Graeme Hall of Doughty Street Chambers. I have also presented evidence regarding the kidnapping to law enforcement agencies in the United Kingdom.
Q: When were you and your organization asked by Mr Choksi to do your investigations?
A: I-OnAsia was engaged to oversee this inquiry/investigation shortly after Mr Choksi was kidnapped from Antigua in May 2021.
Q: What were your main findings?
A: After a thorough review of all the evidence that we were able to identify and collect, I have found that it is almost certain that Mr Choksi was kidnapped from Jolly Harbour, Antigua, forced onto the sailing vessel the Calliope of Arne, and then transported to Cabrits Ferry Terminal in Dominica against his will, where he was then held incommunicado by Dominican authorities. In particular, the evidence included in the Antiguan Police Report is particularly compelling regarding the involvement of a number of individuals with close ties to the United Kingdom and India.
Q: How much of a role did these findings play in the 3 March judgment of the Antigua and Barbuda High Court?
A: My investigational findings were provided to Counsel representing Mr Choksi and used in their submissions to the court in this case and in submissions made to Interpol.
Q: Can you tell us what the sources of your findings are? I am not seeking the identities but their background, the nature of documentations etc that you have relied on.
A: While we have reviewed an extensive array of evidence, including documents, interviews and other avenues of inquiry, I will be providing no comment on the nature, background or any potentially identifying features of any witnesses or sources we may have.
Q: You must be aware that Mr Choksi is being pursued by the Indian government for his alleged role in a banking scam worth several thousand crore. Would you agree that your findings are limited to what Mr Choksi has claimed is an illegal attempt to bring him from Antigua to India and hence does not impact the fact that he should face for the alleged financial crime that he has committed in India?
A: My investigations to date have purely focused on incidents and interactions prior to, during and after Mr Choksi’s kidnapping on 23 May 2021. However, the attempt to illegally kidnap Mr Choksi with a view to circumventing the ongoing extradition proceedings against him and the blatant disregard for the rule of law shown by this raises concerns as to whether Mr Choksi would face a fair trial if he returned to India. This concern is evidently shared by the international community, highlighted by Interpol’s decision to remove the Red Notice against him.
Q: Lastly, as a global expert, in your view how weak or strong is the possibility of Mr Choksi’s extradition to India? If not today, maybe in the coming months?
A: I believe that the attempt to return Mr Choksi to India by way of an illegal kidnapping has manifestly weakened India’s efforts to extradite him. The blatant disregard for the rights of individuals under international law shown during the kidnapping shows that Mr Choksi would likely not be treated fairly in India, which I understand can be a strong defence in extradition proceedings. It is my understanding that no investigation is being undertaken in India as to who may have ordered this operation and why, which (in my view) tacitly condones the actions undertaken.
A copy of this article can be found here.