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PNB fraud case: Nirav Modi to appear via videolink at UK court

LONDON: Fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi, fighting extradition to India on charges over the nearly USD 2 billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud and money laundering case, is scheduled to appear via videolink from his London prison for a regular remand hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London on Wednesday.

The 48-year-old had moved yet another bail application last month with an “unprecedented” house arrest guarantee, akin to those imposed on terrorist suspects, as well as citing mental health issues from being behind bars at Wandsworth Prison in south-west London since his arrest in March.

But the bail plea was turned down by Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot over continued fears of witness intimidation and failure to surrender before the court for his extradition trial in May 2020.

“The past is a prediction of what might happen in the future,” Judge Arbuthnot said at the last hearing on November 6.

The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which represents the Indian government in the extradition proceedings, said there is no further prospect of an appeal for bail in a higher court as the UK High Court has already turned down Modi’s plea earlier this year.

“You only get to go once and can’t keep appealing over and over,” a CPS spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, Modi must appear for “call-over” hearings at Westminster Magistrates’ Court until the case management hearings for his extradition trial kick in from early next year.

The diamond merchant denies the charges of fraud and money laundering and his defence team, led by barrister Hugo Keith, has claimed that the Indian government has wrongly “blackened” Modi’s name as a “world-class schemer”.

As part of the change in circumstances required for a fresh bail application, Modi’s lawyers had offered to double the bail bond security offered to the court, from the previous GBP 2 million to GBP 4 million. They had also informed the court of attacks on their client from fellow prisoners, the most recent being an extortion attack by two inmates who entered Modi’s cell last month and kicked him to the floor and punched him in the face.

“It is obvious that it was a targeted attack following renewed media coverage recently in which Mr Modi is wrongly referred to as a billionaire diamantaire,” said Keith, who presented the court with media reports to allege that Indian intelligence agencies had been involved in a leak of information from a confidential medical report of Modi’s fragile mental health condition.

“It is very unfortunate indeed that the doctor’s report was leaked. It should not happen and would undermine the court’s trust in the government of India, if indeed that emerges to be the source of the leak,” Judge Arbuthnot had noted.

James Lewis, appearing for the CPS on behalf of the Indian government, branded the leak as “deplorable” but stressed that it did not come from the Indian authorities.

Modi has been behind bars at Wandsworth, one of England’s most overcrowded prisons, since his arrest on March 19 on an extradition warrant executed by Scotland Yard on charges brought by the Indian government. During subsequent hearings, the UK court has been told that 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.

His extradition trial is scheduled between May 11 and 15 next year.

Source: Economic Times