The Westminster Magistrate’s Court in the United Kingdom today allowed the extradition of fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi to India.
Modi is one of the key accused/conspirators in the Rs 14,000 crore Punjab National Bank Scam (PNB Scam).
District Judge Sam Goozée, while giving the green signal to the extradition process observed,
“Pulling all these findings together, I determine, on one possible view of the evidence, I am satisfied that there is evidence upon which NDM [Nirav Modi] could be convicted in relation the conspiracy to defraud the PNB. A prima face case is established.”
In relation to the PNB Scam, Modi was charged with conspiracy to defraud, money laundering, and a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and perverting the course of justice by threatening to kill one of the directors of his company, Ashish Lad.
The Court importantly noted that there is ‘prima facie’ case of money laundering against Nirav Modi.
“Having found a prima facie case on the conspiracy, for the sake of brevity, I am not going to embark on setting out the full evidence relied on within the ED request and my evaluation thereof. It is a point conceded by those representing NDM and I find there is prima facie case of money laundering,” the order said.
It also turned down arguments that judiciary in India is compromised and subservient to the executive.
“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. There is no evidence which allows me to find that if extradited Nirav Modi is at real risk of suffering a flagrant denial of justice. The argument in relation to Article 6 fails,” the Court ruled.
The first request for extradition of Modi was tabled by the Indian government on July 27, 2018. Extradition was sought by the Government of India as Modi is subject to two sets of criminal proceedings in relation to the PNB Scam, one before the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and another by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
Counsel for Nirav Modi brought forward the following issues to persuade the Court not to grant the request:
- Whether they are extradition offences (s.137 of the 2003 Act)
- Whether there is a prima facie case – whether there is evidence which would be sufficient to make a case requiring an answer by NDM if the proceedings were the summary trial of an information against him (section 84 of the 2003 Act)
- Whether extradition is compatible with the NDM’s Convention rights, in particular Articles 3 and 6 (section 87 of the 2003 Act)
- Oppressive due to NDM’s mental health (section 91 of the 2003 Act)
At the outset, the Court took a dim view of the way evidence was submitted by the Indian government. It observed,
“Unlike the evidence from the Defence, the evidence produced by the GOI in the case, through no fault of Counsel, was poorly presented and very difficult to navigate. Observations I note were similarly made by the Senior District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts) in Mallya. I hope the GOI take these observations on board in relation to future requests.”
On Modi’s implication in the issuance of Letters of Understanding (LoUs) issued by PNB, the Court held,
“I do not accept the submissions that NDM was involved in legitimate business and using the LOUs in a permissible fashion. It would not be in PNBs interests to create such enormous financial exposure through a financial product which the evidence from the Bank officials confirms is not designed for general business lending, I find there is no evidence of genuine import transactions and the applications for the LOUs was being done dishonestly.”
On the conspiracy charges and the allegations of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, the Court held,
“Again, although there may be no direct evidence of NDM entering into an agreement with his other alleged conspirators, the evidence cumulatively and progressively, taken create an inevitable conclusion NDM and his co-conspirators were working in concert to cause the removal of evidence from the reach of the investigators, interfering with witnesses to the investigation, destruction of evidence all of which tends to pervert the course of justice…
…I am satisfied that there is evidence upon which Nirav Modi could be convicted in relation the conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and the stand-alone conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by threatening to kill Ashish Lad. A prima face case is established.”
The Court also refuted contentions made by Modi’s counsel on the conditions of jails in India, the state of his mental health, and the independence of the Indian judiciary, among others.
Following this ruling, the Court’s order will be sent back to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel. Depending on whether consent for extradition is given, appeals are expected to be filed before the UK High Court.
In October last year, Modi was denied bail for the seventh time by a court in the United Kingdom. Modi has been in London’s Wandsworth Prison since his arrest in March 2019.
In June 2020, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had been granted leave to secure movable and immovable assets located in Mumbai, Rajasthan, the United Arab Emirates, and the UK under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act.