NEW DELHI: The UK high court on Wednesday dismissed fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi’s appeal against his extradition, a development which brings Indian agencies one step closer to bringing him to India to face fraud and money laundering charges.
Lord Justice Jeremy Stuart-Smith and Justice Robert Jay at the high court of justice, London, said the February 2021 decision to extradite Nirav Modi was sound.
The diamantaire has 14 days to appeal against the high court decision in the Supreme Court of the UK.
HT tried to contact Zulfiquar Memon, who represents Modi and is currently in London, but he was not available to comment.
Modi was allowed in August last year to appeal against the extradition on two grounds – under Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) to hear arguments if it would be unjust or oppressive to extradite him due to his mental state and Section 91 of the Extradition Act 2003, also related to mental health.
During hearings at the high court, the 51-year-old billionaire who is accused of cheating Punjab National Bank of ₹6,498 crore alone (both Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi allegedly cheated the bank of ₹13,578 crore), sought relief on ‘mental health’ grounds saying he was prone to suicide and Indian prisons are not suitable for somebody like him with suicidal tendencies.
Nirav Modi’s original defence was that he won’t get a fair trial in India and that he was being targeted due to political reasons. He also cited the poor conditions of jails and argued that the evidence against him is weak. However, India has contended that there is strong evidence against him for fraud and money laundering.
Rejecting Modi’s argument about his mental health and that suicide risk will increase if he is extradited, the high court noted in the judgment –“….we are far from satisfied that Modi’s mental condition and the risk of suicide are such that it would be either unjust or oppressive to extradite him.” HT has reviewed a copy of the judgment.
The judges further underlined that Nirav Modi is not “very likely to be at the most severe end of the scale of depressive illness.”
“Second, he has so far displayed no features of psychotic illness. Third, although he has exhibited persistent suicidal ideation, he has neither attempted suicide or deliberate self-harm nor disclosed plans to do so, except in the most vague and general way. Fourth, the steps taken to render Barrack 12 (at Arthur Road prison) safe and to ensure that there is effectively constant monitoring operate (sic) to reduce both the risk of attempted suicide and the prospect of suicide being committed”.
The Indian government gave assurances to the high court that Modi will be given proper medical and psychiatric care at the Arthur Road prison in Mumbai, where he will be kept.
His legal team argued that the Indian assurance doesn’t reflect a robust care plan to ensure Modi doesn’t commit suicide.
Dismissing the argument, the two judges said: “The fact that a robust clinical plan has not yet been drawn up (even provisionally) does not indicate to us that there is a real risk of oppression if extradition is ordered. For a start, drawing up a detailed plan before now (even provisionally) may be said to be premature and potentially wasteful of time and resources since it has not been known whether the court will order extradition. If we were faced by a blank canvas, there might have been room for concern; but we are not.”
“The assurances provided by the Government of India already encompass most aspects of the robust plan as proposed by the joint statement,” the bench said.
The two judges noted that the Indian government has provided details about a full psychiatric review shortly after Modi’s arrival at the Indian prison and assurances have been given about regular access to clinical care and observations.
The court said it trusted the Indian government’s assurance.
“If anything, the imperative for the Indian government to comply with its assurances will be enhanced by the fact that this is a high profile case so that its conduct and care for Modi is likely to be subject to heightened scrutiny at all times. The Government of India will surely appreciate that a failure to honour its assurances would be liable to have a significant adverse effect on the mutual trust that forms the basis of the extradition regime to which India and the United Kingdom are parties,” the judgment said.
Modi, 51, is currently lodged at Wandsworth prison on the outskirts of London since March 19, 2019, after his arrest on the basis of India’s extradition request to Britain.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has so far attached his properties worth ₹2,650 crore under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. Nirav Modi has also been declared a fugitive under the Fugitive Economic Offenders (FEO) act, which allows ED to confiscate properties of an accused abroad. His assets worth ₹1,389 crore have been confiscated under FEO.
In April this year, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) brought Modi’s close aide Subhash Shankar Parab from Cairo and placed him under arrest. Parab was deputy general manager (DGM) for finance (operations) in Modi’s Firestar International Pvt Ltd since 2015 and was party to all alleged illegal activities of the fugitive. He left the country for Egypt in 2018.