Almost two months after a UK court found fugitive businessman Nirav Modi guilty of fraud and money laundering in the Punjab National Bank scam and ordered his extradition to India, UK home secretary Priti Patel has approved the extradition, people familiar with the development said on Friday.
The decision comes as a shot in the arm for the Indian government, which has been trying to bring fugitive economic offenders back to India, but Nirav Modi reserves a right to appeal his extradition in the high court, which his lawyer said would be the next course of action. Zulfiquar Memon, who represents Nirav Modi, told HT – “We will now go to the high court challenging the order of the Westminster Magistrate Court.”
A UK Home Office spokesperson said: “On February 25, the District Judge gave judgment in the extradition case of Nirav Modi. The extradition order was signed on April 15.”
Nirav Modi now has 14 days to make an application for leave to appeal to the High Court. He may seek leave to appeal against both the decisions of the District Judge and of the Home Secretary, people cited above said.
While ordering his extradition on February 25, the Westminster District Judge Sam Goozee stated that Modi has a case to answer in India as he, along with his brother Nehal Modi and others, had defrauded the public sector bank, laundered the money taken from it and conspired to destroy evidence and intimidate witnesses.
The judge had observed that the circulation of pearls, diamonds and gold between the Nirav Modi firms and the Dubai and Hong Kong based dummy companies was not genuine business and the companies were being used for transferring funds generated in the guise of sale-purchase/export-import of goods colloquially referred to as round tripping transactions.
Modi’s contention that he won’t get a fair trial in India and that he was being targeted due to political reasons was junked by the court.
A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) official following the case said, “UK government signing the extradition order is a positive development. Even if he goes to a higher court, he doesn’t stand a chance as there is very strong evidence against him.”
Nirav Modi is lodged in Wandsworth prison, on the outskirts of London, since March 19, 2019, when he was arrested on the basis of India’s extradition request.
Modi’s is the second high-profile economic offender after former liquor baron Vijay Mallya whose extradition has been cleared by the trial court in the United Kingdom. Mallya lost his appeal against the extradition in April 2020 as well as any opportunity to approach the UK Supreme Court the next month but the British government has claimed that his extradition is held up due to a ‘confidential legal issue’.
Officials familiar with Mallya’s case say he has applied for asylum in the UK and it is not known how much time British authorities will take to decide it.
Like Vijay Mallya, the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) investigators are confident that the UK high court will reject Nirav Modi’s plea too as there is irrefutable evidence of fraud and money laundering against him.
January 2018: Nirav Modi flees India along with his family after cheating Punjab National Bank of around ₹6,498 crore while his partner-in-crime, his uncle, Mehul Choksi – who siphoned of another ₹7,080 crore from PNB, is hiding in Antigua and Barbuda. Choksi’s extradition may take some time.
July 27, 2018: India applied for Nirav Modi’s extradition for fraud and money laundering.
March 19, 2019: Nirav Modi is arrested by Scotland Yard and sent to jail and is lodged in Wandsworth prison on the outskirts of London. He has never got bail in two years.
May 2020: Full hearings pertaining to extradition of Modi begin in the Westminster’s’ Magistrate Court.
February 25, 2021: The Magistrate Court orders extradition saying Nirav Modi has a case to answer and added he and his brother, Nehal Modi, and others, defrauded the public sector bank, laundered the money taken from it, and conspired to destroy evidence and intimidate witnesses. The case is sent to UK home secretary for consideration. She has two months to decide the extradition.
April 15, 2021: Much before two month deadline, UK home secretary Priti Patel signed the extradition.
During the trial, which went on for more than one year, the UK court rejected Modi’s lawyers’ argument and the testimony of experts, including retired Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju, that he would not get a fair trial in India and that he was being targeted due to political reasons.
Describing Katju’s testimony as not reliable, the court said it had the “hallmarks of an outspoken critic with his own personal agenda”.
The court also said Modi’s extradition is compatible with the Convention Rights within the meaning of the Human Rights Act 1998.
Nirav Modi has 14 days to appeal against the Westminster Court’s decision and Priti Patel’s approval in the UK high court.
If his leave to file appeal is accepted, the high court will hear his arguments and decide the case. The whole process may take six months to one year.
Post high court decision, if it comes in India’s favour, he can go to Supreme Court as well only if the high court allows him. In Vijay Mallya’s case, the UK high court had denied him permission to go to the Supreme Court.
Post court appeals, Nirav Modi can also apply for asylum in the UK.