The Westminster Magistrates' Court in London on Thursday allowed India’s extradition request against businessman Nirav Modi, who is wanted in connection with the ₹13,758-crore Punjab National Bank fraud , ruling that a prima facie case had been made out.
The order will be sent to the Secretary of State for the United Kingdom's Home Department for further action. The Secretary of State has to take a decision within two months, or can seek an extension from the High Court. Appealing the Secretary of State’s decision in the High Court is only possible with the High Court's permission.
PNB-Nirav Modi case | Chronology of events
Notice of application for approval to appeal has to be sought within 14 days of extradition, or discharge, ordered by the Secretary of State. “Unless there is an appeal, a requested person must be extradited within 28 days of the Secretary of State’s decision to order extradition (subject to any appeal),” according to the U.K.'s official website.
In its order, the Westminster Magistrates Court held that there were sufficient grounds warranting Mr. Nirav Modi's trial in India. It also accepted the evidence put forth by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate that he had conspired to destroy the proof against him and intimidate witnesses.
It was alleged that he forcibly kept his employees, some of who were dummy directors in the firms floated by him, in illegal custody in Cairo and got their mobile phones destroyed in Dubai.
Also read: PNB hasn’t recovered any money from Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi: RTI reply
The U.K. court observed that Barrack 12 in Mumbai's Arthur Road Jail was spacious enough for Mr. Nirav Modi and that he would get sufficient security. It was convinced that he would not be denied justice in India. The court also turned down the argument of him suffering from severe mental health issues as a ground to deny extradition request, stating that his condition was “far from unusual”.
The testimony of retired Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju was also rejected. “I attach little weight to Justice Katju’s expert opinion... despite having been a former Supreme Court judge in India until his retirement in 2011 his evidence was in my assessment less than objective and reliable,” said the order.
The Judge said: “His [Justice Katju's] evidence in Court appeared tinged with resentment towards former senior judicial colleagues. It had hallmarks of an outspoken critic with his own personal agenda. I found his evidence and behaviour in engaging the media the day before giving evidence to be questionable for someone who served the Indian Judiciary at such a high level appointed to guard and protect the rule of law.”
PNB fraud | Case against Nirav Modi very short on proof, his legal team tells U.K. court
Mr. Nirav Modi faces the allegation of siphoning off funds through fraudulently issued Letters of Undertaking and laundering them. The ED has accused him of diverting more than ₹4,000 crore using over a dozen shell entities based in Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates. While his properties worth hundreds of crores have been attached in India and overseas, he has also been declared a fugitive economic offender by a special Mumbai court.
The businessman had fled the country along with his family members in January 2018. On India's request, he was arrested on March 19, 2019, and since then he has been in judicial custody there.
On January 8, the court had heard arguments from both the sides on the applicability of Section 91 of the UK’s Extradition Act in the case of Mr. Nirav Modi, given his purported mental health condition. Based on the same provision, the extradition of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was recently blocked.
PNB case | Nirav Modi’s sister, brother-in-law turn approver
Mr. Nirav Modi's uncle Mehul Choksi is facing extradition proceedings in Antigua. He had taken Antiguan citizenship before he flew out of India in 2018.
In May last year, the UK High Court had rejected a plea of businessman Vijay Mallya for approval move the Supreme Court against the dismissal of his appeal, paving way for his extradition to India. However, an executive decision in this regard is pending in the Home Department there.