Nirpal Singh Shergill
LONDON (TIP): A UK court on Thursday, Feb 25, ruled that fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi can be extradited to India to face charges of fraud and money laundering amounting to an estimated USD 2 billion.
In a comprehensive extradition win for the Indian authorities, the judge has ruled that Nirav Modi not only has a case to answer in the Indian courts but that there is no evidence to suggest he would not receive a fair trial in India. Nirav Modi, wanted in India on charges of fraud and money laundering in the estimated $2-billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam case, lost his legal battle against extradition on all grounds as District Judge Samuel Goozee also concluded that there are no human rights concerns that his medical needs would not be addressed as per several Indian government assurances.
The 49-year-old appeared via video link at Westminster Magistrates’ Court from Wandsworth Prison in south-west London, dressed in a formal suit and sporting a thick beard, and showed no emotion as excerpts of the judgment were read out in court.
“I am satisfied that there is evidence upon which Nirav Deepak Modi could be convicted in relation [to] the conspiracy to defraud the PNB. A prima facie case is established,” the judge noted.
He similarly concludes a prima facie case to have been established on all counts of charges brought by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) — money laundering, intimidation of witnesses and disappearance of evidence.
“I am not required to exclude all Mr Modi’s various alternative theoretical possibilities and narratives; nor exclude his personal interpretation of the evidence, in order to find a prima facie case has been established,” the judge noted, referring to the extradition case of former Kingfisher Airlines boss Vijay Mallya as precedent.
He accepted that while Nirav’s mental health had deteriorated due to the lengthy incarceration in a London prison, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, his risk of suicide does not meet the high threshold to satisfy him that his mental state is such that it would be “unjust or oppressive” to extradite him.
Under the UK Extradition Act 2003, the judge will now send his findings to the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Priti Patel. It is the UK Cabinet minister who is authorized to order an extradition under the India-UK Extradition Treaty and has two months within which to make that decision. The Home Secretary’s order rarely goes against the court’s conclusions, as she has to consider only some very narrow bars to extradition which are unlikely to apply in this case, including the possible imposition of a death penalty.
Whatever the ministerial decision, the losing side — Nirav Modi — has up to 14 days within which to approach the High Court and seek leave to appeal after the Home Secretary has made her decision known.
Nirav’s legal team did not immediately confirm if he intends to appeal against Thursday’s ruling. Any appeal, if granted, will be heard at the Administrative Division of the High Court in London.
Nirav Modi, meanwhile, remains on remand at Wandsworth Prison until the Home Secretary’s decision to sign off on the extradition order. The flashy diamond merchant was arrested on an extradition warrant on March 19, 2019 and has appeared via video link 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. Nirav is the subject of two sets of criminal proceedings, with the CBI case relating to a large-scale fraud upon PNB through the fraudulent obtaining of letters of undertaking (LoUs) or loan agreements, and the 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 on to the CBI case.
In the judgment clearing the path to extradition, the judge accepted the arguments put forth by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) — arguing in court on behalf of the Indian government — that Nirav in collusion with bank officials oversaw a “Ponzi-like scheme” structure where LoUs were used to repay earlier ones.
“I do not accept the submissions that NDM was involved in legitimate business and using the LoUs in a permissible fashion…I find there is no evidence of genuine import transactions and the applications for the LoUs was being done dishonestly,” the ruling notes.
“Considering the entirety of the evidence, the dummy directors’ evidence in their statements supports the Ponzi-like scheme and the operation of the fraud set out in the statements from the PNB officials,” it adds. The judge highlighted how he had received 16 volumes of evidence from the government of India (GOI), as many as 16 bundles of expert reports and defense evidence and a total of 32 lever-arch folders of documents, all of which he has considered in his ruling. He was, however, extremely critical of the “poorly presented” documentation by the Indian authorities and stressed: “I hope the GOI take these observations on board in relation to future requests.”
The judge also noted that given the high public and media interest in the case, he did not believe there was any reason for him to doubt the Indian government’s assurances.
“I am also required to consider the length and strength of relations between India and this country…There is no reliable evidence of the GOI breaching their solemn diplomatic assurance,” the judge concluded.
Chronology of Nirav Modi’s case
January 29, 2018: Punjab National Bank (PNB) files police complaint against Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi and others accusing fraud to the tune of Rs 2.81 billion.
February 5, 2018: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) launches an investigation into the alleged scam.
February 16, 2018: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) seizes a cumulative Rs 56.74 billion worth of diamonds, gold and jewelry from Nirav Modi’s home and offices.
February 17, 2018: The CBI makes first arrest in the case. Two PNB employees and an executive of Nirav Modi’s group were detained.
February 17, 2018: Government suspends passports of Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi for four weeks in connection with the PNB fraud.
February 21, 2018: CBI arrests CFO of Nirav Modi’s firm and two other senior executives of his firms. It also seals his farmhouse in Alibaug.
February 22, 2018: The ED seizes nine luxury cars belonging to Nirav Modi and his firms.
February 27, 2018: A magistrate’s court issues a bailable arrest warrant against diamond trader Nirav Modi.
June 2, 2018: The Interpol issues Red Corner Notice against Nirav Modi for money laundering.
June 25, 2018: The ED moves to a special court in Mumbai seeking Nirav Modi’s extradition.
August 3, 2018: The Indian Government sends a request for the extradition of Nirav Modi to the UK authorities.
August 20, 2018: The CBI officials request Interpol Manchester to detain Nirav Modi after the latter informs about his presence in London to Indian authorities.
December 27, 2018: The UK informs India that Nirav Modi is living in the country.
March 9, 2019: British newspaper ‘The Telegraph’ confronts Nirav Modi on London’s streets and confirms his presence in the country.
March 9, 2019: The ED says the government of the UK has sent an extradition request of fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi to a UK court for further proceeding.
March 18, 2019: Westminster Court in London issues arrest warrant against fugitive Nirav Modi after the Indian government request was forwarded to the court by the UK Home Office.
March 20, 2019: Nirav Modi arrested in London and produced in Westminster Court, which denies him bail.
March 20, 2019: Nirav Modi sent to Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) Wandsworth till March 29.
March 29, 2019: A Westminster Magistrates Court in London rejects Nirav Modi’s second bail application, saying there are “substantial grounds” to believe that he will fail to surrender. The judge fixes April 26 as the next date of hearing when he will appear via video link from jail.
May 8, 2019: Nirav Modi denied bail for a third time, to remain in UK jail.
June 12, 2019: UK court rejects Nirav Modi’s bail for the fourth time over fears he would abscond.
August 22, 2019: Nirav Modi’s remand extended till September 19; UK extradition trial expected in May 2020.
November 6, 2019: UK court rejects Nirav Modi’s new bail application.
May 11, 2020: Nirav Modi’s five-day extradition trial in PNB fraud case begins in UK.
May 13, 2020: Indian government submits more proof against Nirav Modi in money laundering case.
September 7, 2020: UK court given fresh video tour of Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail.
December 1, 2020: Nirav Modi’s remand extended, final hearings in 2021.
January 8, 2021: UK court decides to pronounce judgement in Nirav Modi’s extradition case on February 25.
February 25, 2021: UK court rules Nirav Modi can be extradited to India to face charges of fraud and money laundering.
(With inputs from PTI)