Jeweller Nirav Modi, wanted for fraud and money laundering in the Rs 14,000-crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) loan scam, can be extradited to India, a UK judge ruled today, dismissing arguments like his mental health worsening during the pandemic and poor Indian prison conditions.
"I am satisfied that Nirav Modi's extradition to India is in compliance per human rights," said District Judge Samuel Goozee, adding that he had the right to appeal the order.
While today's order takes Nirav Modi a step closer to extradition, it may take months yet to wade through appeals, as it has been seen in the case of another high-profile accused, liquor baron Vijay Mallya.
"There is no evidence that if extradited Nirav Modi will not get justice," the judge said, agreeing with India's submissions.
He made it clear that he felt the case for the jeweller to face trial in India was strong and that Nirav Modi had clear links with "other connivers" including bank officials in faked Letters of Undertaking that facilitated huge unpaid loans.
"Mr Modi personally subsequently wrote to PNB acknowledging the debt and promising to repay. The CBI is investigating that Nirav Modi firms were dummy partners," the judge noted. These companies were shadow companies operated by Nirav Modi, he said.
"I do not accept that Nirav Modi was involved in legitimate business. I find no genuine transactions and believe there is a process of dishonesty."
The manner in which Letters of Undertaking were obtained, "the combination as a whole, takes us to the conclusion that Nirav Modi and co were fraudulently operating", the judge said.
"Many of these are a matter for trial in India. I am satisfied again that there is evidence he could be convicted. Prima facie there is a case of money laundering."
The order will be sent back to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel for a sign-off.
Nirav Modi, 49, appeared via video conferencing from Wandsworth Prison in south-west London at the Westminster Magistrates' Court.
He was arrested in 2019 from a metro station in London on an extradition warrant.
His multiple attempts at securing bail were repeatedly turned down as he was deemed a flight risk.
Nirav Modi is facing two sets of criminal proceedings; the CBI case relating to illegal letters of undertaking or loan agreements used to clear crores in loan to the jeweller, and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) case relating to the laundering of the proceeds of that fraud. He also faces two additional charges of evidence tampering and intimidating witnesses, which were added to the CBI case.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), representing the Indian government, alleged that Nirav Modi used his firms - Diamonds R Us, Solar Exports and Stellar Diamonds - to make fraudulent use of PNB's LoUs in a conspiracy with banking officials.
They also played videos in court as proof of Nirav Modi's involvement in intimidating dummy officers of his companies to remain out of the reach of Indian investigating authorities.
Nirav Modi's defence team, led by barrister Clare Montgomery, claimed the case was that of a commercial dispute involving "authorised though ill-advised lending" that took place in "broad daylight". It is also claimed that none of his actions met the legal threshold of perverting the course of justice or amounted to fraud.
The defence also argued that Nirav Modi had a family history of depression and suicide and his mental condition had turned "severe" in the pandemic. Prison conditions at Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai, where Nirav Modi is to be held, were also highlighted but the Indian government submitted an updated video recording of the cell to show that it met all human rights requirements of natural light and ventilation.
The judge said: "Modi fears prosecution in India. Although he has expressed suicidal thoughts, the government of India has reassured safe conditions in prison, through a video in August. The video shows better sanitation and hygiene than the video in 2019."