UK home secretary Priti Patel has signed off on the order to extradite fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi, wanted in India on fraud and money laundering charges related to the estimated $2 billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam case, the UK Home Office said on Friday (April 16).
The decision follows a Westminster magistrate’s court ruling by district judge Sam Goozee in February, which concluded that Modi has a case to answer before the Indian courts and that the bars to extradition under the UK law do not apply in his case.
Nirav Modi, 50, who remains behind bars at Wandsworth Prison in south-west London since his arrest over two years ago on March 19, 2019, has 14 days to apply for permission to appeal against the home secretary’s order in the High Court in London.
On February 25, the district judge gave the judgment in the extradition case of Nirav Modi. The extradition order was signed on April 15, a home office spokesperson said.
Nirav Modi may now seek leave to appeal against both the decisions, that of the district judge and of the home secretary.
The secretary of state (Priti Patel) has ordered Nirav Modi’s extradition to India, said a spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which represents the Indian authorities in the court proceedings. Nirav Modi’s legal representatives have been informed of the decision and they have 14 days to apply to the high court for permission to appeal against the decision, the spokesperson said.
Thus, we are waiting to see if they do apply for permission to appeal. If they are allowed to appeal, then we would contest any appeal proceedings on behalf of the GoI (government of India), the spokesperson said.
Nirav Modi had allegedly perpetrated the fraud at Punjab National Bank in collusion with his uncle Mehul Choksi.
In February, judge Goozee had concluded: “I am satisfied that there is evidence upon which NDM [Nirav Deepak Modi] could be convicted in relation [to] the conspiracy to defraud the Punjab National Bank. A prima facie case is established.”
As part of a very comprehensive judgment, he similarly ruled 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) about money laundering, intimidation of witnesses and disappearance of evidence.
The court had also accepted that while Nirav’s mental health had deteriorated due to the lengthy incarceration in a London prison, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, his risk of suicide did not meet the high threshold to conclude that it would be “unjust or oppressive” to extradite him.
“The regime awaiting NDM (Nirav Deepak Modi) in Barrack 12, when you consider the video, would I have no doubt, be an amelioration of his current conditions of detention, especially when considered alongside the extensive assurances provided by the GOI (government of India),” the judge noted.
Nirav Modi 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.
“I do not accept the submissions that NDM was involved in legitimate business and using the LoUs in a permissible fashion,” notes the court judgment forwarded to the home secretary.
India is a designated Part 2 country by virtue of the Extradition Act 2003, which means it is the Cabinet minister who has the authority to order a requested person’s extradition after considering a number of further issues. The home secretary’s order rarely goes against the court’s conclusions, as she has to consider only very narrow bars to extradition, which did not apply in Nirav’s case.
However, as witnessed in the extradition case of former chief of the now defunct Kingfisher Airlines Vijay Mallya, who remains on bail in the UK while a confidential matter believed to relate to an asylum request is resolved, there is still some way to go before Nirav can be formally be moved from Wandsworth Prison in London to Barrack 12 at Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai and face trial in India.
Any appeal, if sought and granted, will be heard at the administrative division of the high court in London.
There is also a possibility to appeal to the UK Supreme Court but this is only possible if the high court certifies that the appeal involves a point of law of general public importance, and either the high court or the Supreme Court gives leave for the appeal to be made.
Nirav Modi’s legal team did not immediately confirm if he intends to appeal in the high court. He will, meanwhile, remain behind bars at Wandsworth Prison on judicial remand until the next stage in the legal process.
The CBI had registered the case on January 31, 2018, against Modi, Choksi and others, including then officials of PNB, on a complaint from the bank alleging that the accused had hatched a criminal conspiracy amongst themselves to defraud it by fraudulently issuing Letters of Undertaking.
Letters of Undertaking are a guarantee that a bank gives to banks abroad where its client approaches for credit. Modi escaped from India on January 1, 2018, before the registration of the case with CBI. A non-bailable arrest warrant was issued by the trial court against him. It was followed by a red corner notice issued in June 2018 by Interpol. He was arrested by the UK police in London in March 2019 and his repeated applications for bail were rejected by the Westminster magistrate’s court and high court, London.