The Westminster Magistrates’ Court in the United Kingdom on Thursday ordered that fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi can be extradited to India to face trial, ANI reported.
Modi is accused of duping the Punjab National Bank of more than Rs 13,000 crore. He was arrested on March 19, 2019, and has been lodged in London’s Wandsworth jail.
“I am satisfied that Nirav Modi’s extradition to India is in compliance per human rights,” District Judge Samuel Goozee said, adding that the businessman had the right to appeal the order, according to NDTV. “There is no evidence that if extradited Nirav Modi will not get justice.”
The judge added that prima facie there was a money laundering case against him. “Many of these are a matter for trial in India,” he said. “I am satisfied again that there is evidence he could be convicted.”
He said there were clear links between Modi and other connivers, including Punjab National Bank officials, in clearing Letters of Undertaking that facilitated huge unpaid loans.
“Mr Modi personally subsequently wrote to PNB [Punjab National Bank] acknowledging the debt and promising to repay,” the judge added. “The CBI is investigating that Nirav Modi firms were dummy partners. These companies were shadow companies operated by Nirav Modi.”
Therefore, the court said, it did not accept the argument that Modi was involved in a “legitimate business”. “I find no genuine transactions and believe there is a process of dishonesty,” the judge added.
Reacting to the judgement, the Central Bureau of Investigation said the ruling was “significant” and that it should serve as a reminder to all fugitives, who have indulged in large value frauds, that they cannot escape the law merely by changing their countries of residence, PTI reported.
In a statement, the CBI said the court order vindicated the painstaking probe carried out by the agency especially since Modi had raised various issues on admissibility of evidence, fairness of investigation, trial, prison conditions, availability of health facilities in India and extraneous consideration, with a view to divert attention from his own acts.
Modi is facing two sets of criminal proceedings. The Central Bureau of Investigation 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.
Throughout the proceedings of the case, which went on for two years, Modi has denied the charges and opposed the efforts to extradite him from Britain to India. But his multiple attempts at seeking bail was repeatedly turned down as he was deemed a flight risk.
The hearing so far
The Crown Prosecution Service, arguing on behalf of the Indian government, had sought to establish a prima facie case against Modi and also to establish that there were no human rights issues blocking his extradition to India, according to PTI. 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 is “an investment fraud that involves payment of purported returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors,” according to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Barrister Malcom argued that Modi used his firms – Diamonds R Us, Solar Exports and Stellar Diamonds – to make fraudulent use of PNB’s Letter of Undertakings in a conspiracy with banking officials.
On the other hand, Modi’s defence team, led by barrister Clare Montgomery, alleged that the entire matter was a commercial dispute involving “authorised though ill-advised lending” that took place in “broad daylight”. It is also claimed that none of Modi’s actions adhere to the legal threshold of perverting the course of justice, or amounted to fraud.
Besides, the defence had also relied on arguments around Modi’s precarious mental health condition, as someone who has a family history of depression and suicide.
During the last hearing, on January 8, Modi’s lawyer argued that the Arthur Road jail in Mumbai did not have arrangements or plans to deal with his mental health problems, including the risk of suicide. Claire Montgomery also claimed that her client would not receive a fair trial in India as the case was being politicised by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
The Crown Prosecution Service had challenged the stance, and had called for an independent evaluation of medical records by a consultant psychiatrist for appropriate assurances that he would be taken care of in India.