A UK court on Thursday rejected for the fifth time the bail plea of fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi, who is fighting his extradition to India on charges over the nearly USD 2 billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud and money laundering case.
Justice Ian Dove, who presided over the bail hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice, also concluded that the 49-year-old jeweller continued to pose a risk of absconding.
This was the fifth attempt at bail by Nirav Modi, who has been lodged at Wandsworth Prison in south-west London since his arrest in March last year and is scheduled for an extradition trial between May 11 and 15.
He appeared via videolink from prison as his legal team offered a package of "stringent" bail measures, including bail security of 4 million pounds, house arrest with a 24-hour electronic tag as well as a private security guard service and a strictly monitored access to gadgets and telephones.
"There are risks involved with this applicant and the question for the court is are those risks adequately guarded against," noted Justice Dove.
"My central concern of a risk of absconding is not obviated by the measures presented," he ruled, adding that he was unsatisfied with the arrangements presented to the court adequately contained the risks posed in the very "substantial cause" of fraud and money laundering.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) barrister Nick Hearn, arguing on behalf of the Indian government, had reiterated that Nirav Modi continues to remain a flight risk and that any additional measures offered for his bail would not make a breach "impossible".
Nirav Modi's barrister, Edward Fitzgerald, argued that an offer to pay for a security guard from a reputable crisis management company offered "house arrest with effective room arrest" at his luxury apartment at Centre Point in London.
He also sought to dismiss the CPS concern of Nirav Modi continuing to interfere with witnesses due to strictly monitored access to phones and gadgets.
While details of Nirav Modi's mental health were not discussed in open court, the court was told he suffers from depression and that his psychological condition was "deteriorating with the ever-increasing detention" since his arrest in March last year.
"There has additionally been a very disturbing number of physical attacks inside prison and he was told he was being set up for extortion," Fitzgerald added.
The judge said he had taken those factors into account but concurred with both Justice Ingrid Simler, who denied bail at the High Court last year, as well as Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot, who had last refused Nirav Modi's bail in November 2019.
Nirav Modi observed Thursday's proceedings via videolink from prison and occasionally referred to some files before him.
Last week, he appeared via videolink from his prison before Judge David Robinson at the Westminster Magistrates'' Court for his routine 28-day call-over remand hearing and will next appear before the magistrates'' court on March 24.
Nirav Modi was arrested on March 19, 2019, on an extradition warrant executed by Scotland Yard on charges brought by the Indian government. During subsequent hearings, Westminster Magistrates'' Court was told that Nirav Modi was the "principal beneficiary" of the fraudulent issuance of letters of undertaking (LoUs) as part of a conspiracy to defraud PNB and then laundering the proceeds of crime.