In a victory for Narendra Modi government, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel on Friday has approved the extradition of fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi, wanted in India on charges of fraud and money laundering in the estimated $2-billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam case.
Modi, 50, who remains behind bars at Wandsworth Prison in south-west London, has 14 days to apply for permission to appeal against the Home Secretary’s order in the High Court in London.
On February 25, a UK judge had 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.
Modi had lost his nearly two-year-long 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.
“I am satisfied that there is evidence upon which NDM [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.
The flashy diamond merchant was arrested on an extradition warrant on March 19, 2019, and has appeared via videolink 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 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 noted.
The UK judge declared that there was no evidence which allowed him to find that if extradited the jeweller would be at “real risk of suffering a flagrant denial of justice” as pleaded by his lawyers.
“India is governed by its written constitution which has at its core the fundamental principle of the independence of the judiciary by virtue of the separation of powers between judiciary, the executive and the legislature.
“There is no cogent or reliable evidence that the judiciary in India are no longer independent, or capable of managing a fair trial even where it is a high-profile fraud with significant media interest,” the judge concluded.