Retired Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju on Friday claimed that fugitive diamond merchant
Nirav Modi, wanted by Indian authorities over a loan-fraud at state-run Punjab National Bank, was being made a “convenient scapegoat” in the same way Jews were blamed for the economic crisis in Nazi Germany, PTI reported.
Katju made the comments as part of his deposition via video conference from India in the extradition case at London’s Westminster Magistrates Court against Modi. The former judge was brought by Modi’s counsel to substantiate claims that he would not get a fair trial in India.
On the final day of a five-day hearing, Justice Samuel Goozee heard Katju and adjourned the hearing till November 3. Goozee will hear arguments on the admissibility of the evidence provided by the Indian authorities in the next hearing.
During Friday’s hearing, Katju said that the judiciary in India was corrupt and that the investigating agencies were subservient to the central government. He also spoke about the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya case judgement, which he said was the “most shameful verdict in 50 years”. The land in Ayodhya was claimed by both Hindus and Muslims. In November last year, the top court permitted the construction of the temple and directed the government to acquire an alternative plot of land to build a mosque. Katju said this was an example of the judiciary’s surrender to the ruling dispensation, The Times of India reported.
“Even before the coronavirus pandemic the Indian economy was collapsing, GDP is going down,” Katju told the judge. “The BJP has no idea how to solve it so they must find some scapegoat. They want to blame all economic collapse that the government of India has created on Nirav Modi. He is their scapegoat. This is why they are so adamant to get him back and convict him... he will definitely get convicted, no doubt about it. He will not get a fair trial in India.”
The United Kingdom’s Crown Prosecution Service, arguing on behalf of the Indian government, countered Katju’s claims in the case. “Is it at least possible, you are something of a self-publicist who will make any outrageous statements for the purpose of courting the press,” barrister Helen Malcolm asked him. Katju said that Malcolm was entitled to her opinions.
Malcolm also raised questions on Katju giving statements in a sub judice matter to the Indian media earlier this week, to which the former Supreme Court judge said that he was merely responding to reporters’ questions. Katju added that it was his duty to speak on matters of “national importance”.
The barrister also read out Katju’s controversial comments on gay relationships being “unnatural”, and for saying that women who remain single are “prone to psychological problems”. Katju said that he was entitled to his opinions and added that he had quoted Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, which Malcolm should have read as she was British.
On a question that Modi’s alleged dishonest actions were to be blamed, Katju said he was not making any statement on the merits of the case. “I am simply saying that he cannot get a fair trial,” he said. “All ministers and media have pronounced him guilty.”
Meanwhile, Modi’s defence team sought to not only establish that his actions in connection with the letters of undertaking issued by the Punjab National Bank did not amount to fraud, but also deposed witnesses to highlight the 49-year-old businessman’s fragile mental health condition and a high risk of suicide. His team has also claimed that Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail, where Modi will be placed in after his extradition, does not meet the court’s human rights criteria.
Malcolm submitted a written undertaking that the Indian government would provide all the psychiatric help Modi needs in the jail and pointed out that he was not being provided the same in Wandsworth prison, where he is lodged currently.
On August 7, the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London remanded Modi in custody till August 27 in India’s second extradition case against him.
In June, the Enforcement Directorate said it brought back to India the diamonds, pearls and silver jewellery belonging to overseas entities owned by fugitive businessmen Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi. The jewels are worth Rs 1,350 crore, the investigation agency had said.
The businessman, who fled to the United Kingdom in 2018, was arrested in London earlier this year. Four bail applications have been posted by his legal team since his arrest but they have been rejected every time as he is deemed a flight risk.