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Nirav Modi. (File Photo: IANS)
KATHMANDU: The UK court on Thursday ruled diamond merchant Nirav Modi will be extradited to India while accepting money laundering charges against him in the Punjab National Bank scam case. District Judge Samuel Goozee said Modi will not be denied justice if he is extradited to India, adding that Barrack 12 at Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai is fit for him.
The judge dismissed Modi’s “mental health concerns”, saying that they are not unusual in a man in his circumstances. The judge observed that Modi conspired to destroy evidence and intimidate witnesses.
The judge said Modi will be given adequate medical treatment and mental health care at Arthur Road Jail, Mumbai, “There is no risk of suicide for Nirav Modi if he is sent to India as he will have access to adequate medical care at Arthur Road jail,” the judge said.
Modi is a wanted diamond merchant, who remains behind bars in a London prison as he contests his extradition to India on charges of fraud and money laundering in the estimated US $2 billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam case. The 49-year-old appeared via videolink from Wandsworth Prison in south-west London at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, where the judge handed down his judgment.
Modi was arrested on an extradition warrant on March 19, 2019, and has appeared via videolink from Wandsworth Prison for a series of court hearings in the extradition case. His multiple attempts at seeking bail have been repeatedly turned down, both at the Magistrates’ and High Court level, as he was deemed a flight risk.
He is the subject of two sets of criminal proceedings, with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) case relating to a large-scale fraud upon PNB through the fraudulent obtaining of letters of undertaking (LoUs) or loan agreements, and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) case relating to the laundering of the proceeds of that fraud. He also faces two additional charges of “causing the disappearance of evidence” and intimidating witnesses or “criminal intimidation to cause death, which were added to the CBI case.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), arguing on behalf of the Indian government, has sought to establish a prima facie case against him and also to establish that there are no human rights issues blocking his extradition to India. CPS barrister Helen Malcolm has argued that the jeweller presided over a “ponzi-like scheme where new LoUs were used to repay old ones”.
A Ponzi scheme typically refers to an investment scam that generates funds for earlier investors with money taken from later investors and the CPS has claimed that Modi used his firms Diamonds R Us, Solar Exports and Stellar Diamonds to make fraudulent use of PNB’s LoUs in a conspiracy with banking officials.
They have also played videos in court as proof of Modi’s involvement in intimidating dummy officers of his companies to remain out of the reach of Indian investigating authorities. Modi’s defence team, led by barrister Clare Montgomery, has claimed that the entire issue is a commercial dispute involving “authorized through ill-advised lending” that took place in “broad daylight”.
It is also claimed that none of his actions meet the legal threshold of perverting the course of justice or amounted to fraud. Besides, the defence has also relied on arguments around Modi’s precarious mental health condition, as someone who has a family history of depression and suicide.
Modi’s legal battle marks one of a number of high-profile extradition cases involving accused Indian economic offenders in the UK. While former Kingfisher Airlines boss Vijay Mallya remains on bail as a “confidential” matter related to his extradition to India is resolved, accused arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari’s extradition case is scheduled for its next hearing in April.
In February 2020, wanted cricket bookie Sanjeev Chawla was extradited to face charges in India and became the first extradition of its kind under the India-UK Extradition Treaty, signed in 1992. The previous extradition of Samirbhai Vinubhai Patel, wanted in connection with the Godhra riots in Gujarat, from the UK to India in October 2016 had been uncontested and therefore did not have to go through various levels of appeals in the UK courts.
With inputs from PTI
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