PNB scam case: Nirav Modi can be extradited to India, says UK court

The verdict will, as is the procedure in Britain, be referred to the country’s home secretary, Priti Patel, to authorise deportation at her discretion | Illustration: Ajay Mohanty
Nirav Modi, once touted as a billionaire designer diamantaire, and now wanted on charges of fraud and money laundering in the $2-billion (Rs 14,000-crore) Punjab National Bank scam case, was on Thursday ordered by a London court to be extradited to India, with the judge ruling that the 49-year-old did have a case to answer before Indian courts.

The verdict will, as is the procedure in Britain, be referred to the country’s home secretary, Priti Patel, to authorise deportation at her discretion. But Nirav Modi is permitted to appeal against the ruling to the high court.

After nearly two years of proceedings since he was arrested at the British capital’s well-known shopping precinct of Oxford Street, a district judge at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, Samuel Goozee, ruled: “I am satisfied that there is evidence upon which Mr Modi could be convicted… A prima facie case is established…He has a case to answer for in India.” 

The Prime Minister’s Office has acknowledged it was tipped off about Nirav Modi’s uncle Mehul Choksi (the two had business dealings) as early as July 2016. PNB complained to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) about dubious letters of undertaking (LoUs) in February 2017. Yet no action was taken.  Choksi fled to the Caribbean island of Antigua, with which India does not have an extradition arrangement.

Unlike the owner of the now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines Vijay Mallya’s case, where there were doubts about his culpability – which have since increased after the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate’s failure to prosecute the IDBI Bank executives who were accused of colluding with Mallya after more than four years – the charges against Nirav Modi on the face of it looked more convincing and therefore his defence comparatively weaker.

The British Crown Prosecution Service barrister Helen Malcolm, appearing on behalf of the Indian government, had argued Nirav Modi operated “a Ponzi-like scheme where new LoUs were used to repay old ones”. Nirav Modi’s counsel Clare Montgomery put the onus on the bank by saying it was “ill-advised lending”.

Malcolm provided assurances to the court that Barrack 12 in Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai, where Modi is to be held, meets acceptable human rights standards in terms of its conditions and facilities. A video recording of a cell where he would be incarcerated was presented to the court.  

As a last ditch effort, Montgomery pleaded her client’s mental state (claimed to be depression) made him a suicide risk, if transported to India. She emphasised this issue did not meet the Section 91 threshold of the UK’s Extradition Act 2003. The judge did not, though, feel sending him back to India would be “unjust or oppressive”. Nirav Modi’s examination by an independent specialist cannot, however, be ruled out.  

Nirav Modi was arrested in March 2019. Contrary to the treatment of Mallya, who was immediately granted bail, Modi has remained locked up ever since, thereby perhaps reflecting the seriousness of the matter. He appeared throughout in the case via videoconferencing from his prison in Wandworth in south-east London. He has up to 14 days to appeal against the order. Nirav Modi’s other option is to apply for asylum.

Reacting to the development, a spokesperson for the CBI said, “The today’s judgment…is a significant achievement in the context of the 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 judgment also vindicates the painstaking investigation by the CBI, especially since Nirav Modi had raised various issues with regard to the admissibility of evidence, the fairness of investigation, trial, prison conditions, availability of health facilities in India and extraneous consideration, with a view to divert attention from his own acts,” the spokesperson said.

Dear Reader,

Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.

We, however, have a request.

As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.

Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.

Digital Editor

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel