A district court in the United Kingdom on Tuesday ruled that the evidence submitted by the Indian authorities to establish a prima facie case of fraud and money laundering against fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi is broadly admissible, PTI reported.
Modi is facing an extradition trial in London for allegedly duping Punjab National Bank of more than Rs 13,000 crore. He followed the court proceedings virtually from Wandsworth Prison in south-west London.
District Judge Samuel Goozee heard the arguments on the admissibility of certain witness statements provided by the Central Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement Directorate at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court. Goozee concluded that he considered himself “bound” by the previous UK court rulings in the extradition case of former Kingfisher Airlines chief Vijay Mallya. “There is no reason why points made by witnesses cannot be used as informed commentary,” the judge added.
Mallya, who is also fighting his extradition to India, faces fraud and money laundering charges in a bank loan default case of over Rs 9,000 crore resulting from the collapse of his defunct company Kingfisher Airlines. On November 2, India’s Supreme Court asked the Centre to file a status report within six weeks on the confidential legal proceedings pending in the United Kingdom on his extradition.
Goozee then adjourned the case for a two-day hearing on January 7 and 8 next year, when he will hear the final submissions in the case before he pronounces a judgement a few weeks later.
During the hearing on Tuesday, the Crown Prosecution Service, arguing on behalf of the Indian authorities, stressed that the evidence, including witness statements under Section 161 of the Indian Code of Criminal Procedure, meets the required threshold to determine whether Modi has a case to answer before the Indian judicial system.
“The argument that this is a very specific case, distinguishable from Mallya is frankly nonsense,” said CPS barrister Helen Malcolm.
Modi’s counsel, Clare Montgomery, who was also the defence counsel in Mallya’s case, however, disputed that the Section 161 witness statements qualify as similar. “The government of India case is not as strong as it was in Mallya,” said Montgomery. She pointed out that a witness who said he did not speak English in his testimony to the CBI, later signed a statement in English for the Enforcement Directorate.
Modi is facing two sets of criminal proceedings. The CBI case relates to the large-scale fraud upon PNB through the fraudulent obtaining of “Letters of Understanding”, while the Enforcement Directorate is investigating 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 added to the CBI case. The jeweller has been in prison since he was arrested on March 19, 2019, on an extradition warrant executed by Scotland Yard and his attempts at seeking bail have been repeatedly turned down.