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UK Court Clears Nirav Modi’s Extradition

UK Court Clears Nirav Modi’s Extradition

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NEW DELHI, Feb 25: India’s efforts to secure extradition of the fugitive diamond trader Nirav Modi met with success on Thursday with a magisterial court in the United Kingdom ruling that he could be extradited to India to stand trial.

In its order the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London said a prima facie case had been established against Nirav Modi and that he has a “case to answer for in India.” The court agreed that he “conspired to destroy evidence and intimidate witnesses” and rejected his lawyers’ claim that his mental condition was not suitable for extradition to India where he was “unlikely to get justice.”

The UK court ruled that suffering from depression was not unusual for a man in his circumstances and held that Barrack 12 at the Arthur Road prison in Mumbai, where the government of India had promised to lodge him after his extradition to India, was “fit” for Nirav Modi and that he would not be denied justice in India.

Nirav Modi, however, will still have the option to appeal against the magisterial court’s order in the High Court and his lawyers hinted that he might grab the option.

Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi are accused of routing transactions of about Rs 13,600 crore through fraudulent Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) of Punjab National Bank (PNB). Both men left India in the first week of January 2018, weeks before the scam came to light.

The court also dismissed Modi’s claim that Indian Union Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tried to influence the case against him.

Modi is subject to two sets of criminal proceedings, with the CBI case relating to a large-scale fraud upon PNB through the fraudulent obtaining of LoUs or loan agreements, and the ED case relating to the laundering of the proceeds of that fraud. The ED has alleged that Modi diverted over Rs 4,000 crore of the Rs 6,519 crore outstanding fraudulent LoUs issued by PNB to his firms, through 15 “dummy companies” based in the UAE and Hong Kong.

He is also an accused in separate criminal proceedings in (i) a CBI case related to the alleged PNB-LoU fraud, and (ii) an ED case on the laundering of the proceeds of the alleged fraud at PNB. Based on the ED’s complaint, Nirav Modi is also facing charges of “causing” evidence-tampering and “criminal intimidation” of witnesses.

The fugitive diamond trader has, however, denied any wrongdoing and has told the UK court that obtaining LoUs is standard practice for companies.

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.

During a series of hearings in the course of the extradition case last year and early this year, Modi’s lawyers submitted legal opinion from retired High Court judges and legal experts in India, stating that the charge of cheating is not made out, as CBI has stated that PNB officials were “hand-in-glove” with him in issuing LoUs. They had also submitted legal opinion on the issue of destruction of evidence and intimidation of witnesses by Modi.

Prima facie CBI case has been established, the UK court said, adding that Nirav Modi and his brother conspired to defraud the PNB.

Stating that Modi’s link with PNB officials had been established, the court said the CBI’s probe demonstrated his control over dummy firms.

Calling the Indian judiciary independent, the UK judge said there was no evidence to suggest that if extradited, Nirav Modi would not receive justice.

“The government of India has provided comprehensive assurance regarding keeping Nirav Modi in Barrack number 12 in Arthur Road prison. There is sufficient security, adequate food and Barrack 12 has more space than Wandsworth Prison where he is lodged right now,” the court said.

The judge also junked Modi’s contention about poor mental health and poor medical conditions in India.

(Manas Dasgupta)


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