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Two years after arrest, UK court paves way for Nirav Modi extradition

A UK court Thursday ordered the extradition of fugitive jeweller Nirav Modi — wanted by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate in a Rs 13,500-crore bank loan fraud case — to India.

The UK Court delivered the verdict holding that the evidence against Modi was prima facie sufficient to order his extradition to India to face the charges. The Court also upheld the assurances of the Indian government and rejected the submissions of defence regarding human rights violations, fair trial, and prison conditions.

Declaring it was satisfied with all conditions necessary for extradition, the court said, “Therefore, in accordance with S.87(3) EA 2003 I am sending this case to the Secretary of State for a decision as to whether Nirav Modi is to be extradited.”

The court, however, said Modi would have the right to appeal to the High Court against the decision to send the case to the Secretary of State. However, this appeal would not be heard until the Secretary of State has made a decision, it said.

“The appeal can be on a point of law or fact or both,” the court said adding the appeal has to be made within 14 days of the Secretary of State decision.

Sources said now that the court has cleared the extradition, the UK government would likely move in favour of India’s request.

“Today’s judgement of Westminster Magistrates’ Court is a significant achievement in the context of CBI’s efforts to curb corruption and is a reminder that fugitives, who have eluded the process of law after commission of large value frauds, cannot consider themselves above the process merely because they have changed jurisdictions,” the CBI said in a statement.

The 49-year-old jeweller appeared via video link from Wandsworth Prison in south-west London as District Judge Samuel Goozee handed down his judgment at Westminster Magistrate’s Court in London. He has been lodged here since his arrest on an extradition warrant in March 2019 at a central London bank branch, where he was trying to set up a new account.

While hearing arguments on whether Modi would get a fair trial, the court also examined retired Justice Markandey Katju’s submissions in defence of Modi only to reject it finally.

The court noted that Justice Katju’s evidence centered primarily on the fact that Indian Courts have become politicised. He states that in recent years the Supreme Court in India has ‘practically surrendered before the Indian Government and is doing its bidding and is not acting as an independent organ of the state protecting the rights of the people as it was supposed to be’ and in his view the ‘Indian judiciary has largely surrendered before the political executive’.

The court also noted Katju’s opinions on CBI and ED saying, “In relation to the CBI, Justice Katju explains there is evidence that the Government blatantly interferes with the CBI’s functions and that it functions under the direction of the ruling government. ‘Justice cannot be expected from an institution which itself is caged’. As far as the ED is concerned his opinion is that they are under the complete control of the government.”

Rejecting these assertions, the judge said, “I attach little weight to Justice Katju’s expert opinion. Despite having been a former Supreme Court judge in India until his retirement in 2011 his evidence was in my assessment less than objective and reliable. His evidence in Court appeared tinged with resentment towards former senior judicial colleagues. It had hallmarks of an outspoken critic with his own personal agenda.”

It also rejected his assertion of politicisation of the Supreme Court through the example of a former CJI becoming a member of Parliament from the ruling party post retirement, stating that Katju had himself accepted appointment as Press Council of India chief after he retired.

The defence argument that the trial had been prejudiced since top politicians from the ruling party had made comments about Nirav Modi and his culpability was also rejected by the court.

Modi along with his uncle Mehul Choksi had been booked by investigative agencies CBI and ED in January 2018 for what is now known as the Punjab National Bank loan scam. In July, 2018, India sent a request to the UK to extradite Modi based on ED and CBI chargesheets.

On February 11, 2020, India issued a further extradition request for two additional offences which Modi faces as part of the CBI case. These offences relate to allegations that Modi has interfered with the CBI investigation by causing the disappearance of evidence and intimidating witnesses.

Modi had been staying nearby at a plush penthouse in Centrepoint in the heart of the UK capital at the time of his arrest.

Following his arrest in 2019, he had petitioned the court multiple times for bail, but these were rejected based on evidence provided by ED and CBI.

Diamond traders Modi and Choksi had together defrauded PNB of Rs 13,500 crore through fraudulent letters of undertaking. Both fled the country before an FIR was registered by the CBI against them in 2018.

 

 


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