The High Court of London today rejected the appeal of fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi and ordered his extradition to India to face a trial for his alleged acts of fraud and money laundering, amounting to an estimated $ 2 billion in the Punjab National Bank (PNB) loan scam case — much as the Enforcement Directorate has already given back to the national exchequer more than that amount through confiscations of the shady businessman’s assets. Lord Justice Jeremy Stuart-Smith and Justice Robert Jay, who presided over the appeal hearing earlier this year, delivered the verdict.
“…We are far from satisfied that Mr Modi’s mental condition and the risk of suicide are such that it would be either unjust or oppressive to extradite him,” the court said.
Nirav Modi’s uncle, Mehul Choksi, who has taken up citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda, is accused of cheating PNB and wanted by Indian agencies too.
Nirav Modi, lodged at the Wandsworth prison in south-east London, was granted permission to appeal against District Judge Sam Goozee’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court ruling in favour of extradition in February 2021. The 51-year-old fugitive had appealed on the ground of his mental health. The high court had granted the leave to appeal on 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, which is related to mental ill health too.
Can India be sure it is getting back Nirav Modi now?
The process is complicated. Nirav Modi is currently undergoing extradition proceedings in the UK. He was booked in the alleged Rs 13,500-crore PNB fraud case, where it was claimed that companies controlled by him had benefited from the issuance of fraudulent letters of undertaking from the bank. He faces two additional charges of “causing the disappearance of evidence” and intimidating witnesses or “criminal intimidation to cause death”, which were added to the CBI case.
Nirav Modi can approach Britain’s Supreme Court against the high court’s order within 14 days. But there’s a catch; he can appeal in the Supreme Court only if the high court agrees that his case involves a point of law of general public importance.
If or when this option is spent, Nirav Modi is free to approach the European Court of Human Rights. His legal team hasn’t said what they plan to do next after today’s setback.
In the meantime, the fugitive businessman will remain at the London jail where he was first kept after he was arrested in March 2019.
Whether India will get back Nirav Modi depends on how the above legal process plays out.
What agencies will constitute the prosecution if or when the fugitive is back in India? What is the prime allegation against him?
Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate have cases against Nirav Modi. The fugitive and the firms he controlled allegedly leveraged the loopholes in the banking system by seeking letters of undertaking (LoU) and raising credit from foreign banks to pay its merchants.
An LoU is a bank guarantee issued for overseas import payments. For years, Nirav Modi and his three firms had been allegedly taking LoUs from PNB. These bank guarantees allegedly helped the fugitive raise short-term loans from foreign branches of Indian banks to pay suppliers of raw materials. The money was then transferred through several labyrinthine money-laundering processes.