Fugitive Indian Diamond Merchant Mehul Choksi Hiding Out in the Caribbean

Fugitive Indian diamond merchant Mehul Choksi, a co-accused in the $2-billion Punjab National Bank fraud case along with his nephew Nirav Modi, had obtained an Antiguan citizenship in November last year before the scam broke out. 

Choksi is not alone in running away to Antigua and Barbuda. Data analysed by TOI reveals that 28 Indians have applied for the citizenship of the Caribbean nation since 2014. Seven of these were granted the hassle-free Antiguan nationality between January 1 and June 30, 2017 itself, upon investment of $2,00,000, according to the half-yearly report of Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU), which comes under Antigua’s ministry of finance and corporate governance and public private partnerships. 

Why are the Caribbean countries a safe refuge for corporate fugitives?

Easy citizenship for the rich 

Antigua and Barbuda allows dual citizenship to foreigners if they invest in the National Development Fund (NDF), purchase government-approved real estate, or invest in a pre-approved business. To get an Antigua and Barbuda passport, Choksi would just have had to pay a minimum of $200,000 (Rs 1.3 crore) as a contribution to the Antigua NDF, or make an .. 

Indians constitute 2.5% of citizenships out of total 1,121 foreign nationals who have sought refuge in the island since inception of this programme. The list is dominated by China – with total 478 Chinese nationals (42.64%) applying for Caribbean nation’s citizenship since 2014. 

The fugitives or runaway businessmen flush with money made through scams can easily afford to buy citizenship in the Caribbean countries. 

Other Caribbean countries 

Anyone with enough cash can also buy a passport for St Kitts and Nevis and have it within four months. All they have to do is to make a $150,000 (Rs 1.03 crore) contribution to the St. Kitts Sustainable Growth Fund or a $200,000 (Rs 1.3 crore) investment in a government real estate project. 

Once they have that passport there are 141 countries you can enter visa-free, including the UK and India. Those looking for a low-cost option can consider Dominica where an applicant can get irrevocable second citizenship and passport, with no visit to the country or even physical residency required, for just $100,000. All they have to do is to make a $100,000 (Rs 68 lakh) contribution to the Dominica Government Fund or spend $200,000 (Rs 1.3 crore) on real estate there. St. Lucia and Grenada too has similar laws on citizenship. 

Perks that come with the citizenship 

The citizenship is not just easy to get but also comes with some highly valued perks. With his Antiguan passport, Choksi can enjoy visa-free travel to approximately 132 countries, including the UK and all the countries of the Schengen area. He does not even need to live in Antigua and only needs to spend five days there in five years to retain his citizenship. Most Caribbean countries allow dual citizenship which keeps the door back home open for businesspersons being tried for crimes. Those who fear international sanctions against their own countries can save their business interests buying Caribbean citizenship. 

Super ease of doing business 

The Caribbean countries offer not just citizenship for money, they also promise a an easy and lax environment to conduct business. For example, most of these countries impose no direct income tax. Many also don't inheritance, capital gains and dividend income. A tax-free business environment also pulls in a lot of regular businesspersons who are not running away from the law in their own countries.

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