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27 Nov 2021, Edition - 2328, Saturday

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Antiguan foreign minister meets Sushma Swaraj, discusses Mehul Choksi, EVMs, cricket



India, Antigua and Barbuda highest level of engagement took place on Wednesday in New York on the sidelines of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session. The most important part of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s focus was the issue of extradition of the Rs 14,000-crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam accused Mehul Choksi.

Speaking exclusively to India Today, foreign minister of Antigua and Barbuda Chet Greene said that he “assured” his Indian counterpart full “cooperation” on the matter.

“We want to assure the people of India like we did the Foreign Minister that our commitment of cooperation and collaboration has not in any way changed. Rather, it is strengthened by the fact that we have a body of laws which govern extradition and matters of this nature which we have to respect”, he said.

Speaking on Swaraj’s interaction with Greene, Raveesh Kumar, the spokesperson at the Ministry of External Affairs said, “The External Affairs Minister had requested him that quicker the matter is resolved, the better it is. Her counterpart replied that they’re trying their best, he said there are some legal angles and court procedures, which they’ll examine but he expressed the commitment of his Prime Minister and government before Sushma Swaraj.”

While India has submitted a 720-page document, the Antiguan foreign minister said that he could not commit to a timeframe given that the matter is now in court.

“The executive does not control the judiciary so to answer your question about the timeframe, it is not something I would venture to answer. However, I can tell you that we have received the documents from the Indian government… Meantime, as reported before, by Mehul Choksi’s lawyers have gone to the court and this matter is now sub judice and as such we have to await the outcome of legal proceedings before anything can happen, should they happen at all”, said Greene.

India has invoked extradition under the Antiguan laws that cover all Commonwealth nations even if there isn’t a bilateral agreement between the two countries. But, because Mehul Choksi is a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda and has rights to legal recourse and with the matter now “sub-judice”, the government cannot interfere in the matter making the case a little more complicated.

“Remember Mehul Choksi is also a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda who has the protection of all the laws and constitutional protection of the nation and so it is a matter which has to go through due process, a matter which can’t be handled otherwise lest we be accused as a government of interfering with the judiciary and the legal processes and I’m sure neither your government or the Commonwealth would want to see that government of Antigua and Barbuda would be seen or cited for interfering with the justice system within the country,” explains the Antiguan foreign minister.

The meeting, on Wednesday, between Swaraj and E.P. Chet Green was arranged at the request of the Foreign Minister of Antigua. “He personally wanted to tell the External Affairs Minister of the commitment of his PM and his government regarding the extradition of Mehul Choksi,” said Raveesh Kumar.

Among other things, the government of Antigua and Barbuda showed interest in the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) of India and want the technology to hold elections in their own country.

Greene said, “We also looked at your elections and the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). We have an interest to implementing and using the technology here. We are a population far less than yours but it takes us much longer than you to count our ballots.”

Finally, on soft power diplomacy, cricket figured during the talks where Chet Greene proposed greater cooperation between the two nations on academies and training institutes for young cricketers. Citing the example of Sir Viv Richards, an Antiguan national, he said, “You have Sachin Tendulkar and we have Viv Richards. We are looking at exchange in sports and particularly in cricket. We believe that we can find a lot of experience in India and a lot to exchange. Our academy will provide space to cricketers across the world. So young cricketers in India could learn from Sir Viv Richards and others.”

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