The Westminster Magistrates' Court in London, United Kingdom on February 25 allowed fugitive economic offender Nirav Modi's extradition to India. He has been behind bars in a London prison.
The UK court accepted that there was prima facie evidence of fraud against the 49-year-old. The district judge also accepted the Indian government’s claim that the jeweller was threatening witnesses and tampered with evidence.
Medical arrangements in India for Nirav Modi are acceptable and he will not be denied justice if he is extradited to India, the judge ruled.
Nirav Modi had contested his extradition to India on charges of fraud and money laundering in the estimated $2 billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam case. The legal battle in the UK court went on for two years.
The magistrates' court ruling will now be sent to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel for a sign off. However, there remains a possibility of an appeal in the High Court.
Charges against Nirav Modi
Nirav Modi was arrested on an extradition warrant on March 19, 2019, and has appeared via video link from prison for a series of court hearings in the extradition case. His multiple attempts at seeking bail were repeatedly turned down, both at the Magistrates' and High Court level, as he was deemed a flight risk.
He is the subject of two sets of criminal proceedings, with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) case relating to a large-scale fraud upon PNB through the fraudulent obtaining of Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) or loan agreements, and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) case regarding the laundering of the fraud's proceeds.
Additionally, he 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.
UK's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), arguing on behalf of the Indian government, had sought to establish a prima facie case against him and also to establish that there are no human rights issues blocking his extradition.
CPS barrister Helen Malcolm had argued that the jeweller presided over a "ponzi-like scheme where new LoUs were used to repay old ones". A ponzi scheme refers to an investment scam which generates funds for earlier investors with money taken from later investors. The CPS had claimed that Nirav Modi used his firms Diamonds R Us, Solar Exports and Stellar Diamonds to make fraudulent use of PNB's LoUs in a conspiracy with banking officials.
Nirav Modi's defence team, led by barrister Clare Montgomery, had claimed that the issue is a commercial dispute involving "authorised though ill-advised lending" that took place in "broad daylight". His legal team also claimed that none of his actions meet the legal threshold of perverting the course of justice or amounted to fraud.
The defence also relied on arguments around his precarious mental health condition, as someone who has a family history of depression and suicide.
However, the judge ruled that there is "no risk of suicide" if he is sent to India "as he will have access to adequate medical care at the Arthur Road jail".
During a series of hearings in the course of the extradition case in 202o and early this year, the court had also heard detailed arguments from both sides about why his "deteriorating" mental health condition does or does not meet the Section 91 threshold of the Extradition Act 2003 which was most recently been used in the UK to block the extradition of Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange on the grounds of it being "unjust and oppressive" as he is a high suicide risk.
The CPS had challenged the defence stance and had called for an independent evaluation of medical records by a consultant psychiatrist for appropriate assurances to be acquired by the authorities in terms of his care in India.
Prison conditions at Barrack 12 in Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai, where Modi is to be held, have also been in focus as the Indian government submitted an updated video recording of the cell to highlight that it meets all human rights requirements of natural light and ventilation.
Nirav Modi's legal battle marks one of many high-profile extradition cases involving accused Indian economic offenders in the UK.(With inputs from PTI)