A UK court has yet again refused to grant bail to Nirav Modi even as the fugitive Indian businessman said that he was “beaten up three times” in the prison and threatened to “kill himself” if his extradition to India is ordered.
The 49-year-old was produced before Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot at Westminster Magistrates’ Court for his fifth attempt at bail.
Modi is fighting extradition to India on charges of nearly USD 2 billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud and money laundering case.
The court rejected his bail plea despite an offer of an “unprecedented bail package”, which included 4-million pounds in security as well as house arrest akin to those imposed on terrorist suspects.
Nirav Modi has been lodged at Wandsworth prison in south-west London, one of England’s most overcrowded jails, since his arrest on March 19 on an extradition warrant executed by Scotland Yard on charges brought by the Indian government, being represented by the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in court.
Dressed in a white shirt and blue sweater, the businessman was taken back to Wandsworth prison in south-west London and will next appear via video link before the same court on December 4.
“The past is a prediction of what might happen in the future,” said Judge Arbuthnot, as she concluded that she remains unconvinced that he would not interfere with witnesses or fail to surrender before the court for his trial in May 2020. She also noted that the confirmation that Nirav Modi is suffering from depression is not such that would influence her to change her previous ruling to deny bail.
She, however, was extremely critical of “appalling” leaks to the Indian media last month associated with Nirav Modi’s latest bail application, which referred to his mental health condition from a confidential medical report.
Nirav Modi’s defence team blamed the leak on the Indian investigative agencies and produced a bundle of press reports dated October 30 for the judge to accuse the Indian authorities of bad faith and egregious behaviour.
“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,” the Judge said.
James Lewis, appearing for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on behalf of the Indian government, stressed that the leak was deplorable but did not come from the Indian side.
He challenged the fresh bail application on the grounds that there had been no material change in circumstances from the previous three occasions and stressed that Nirav Modi continued to possess the means and intention to flee the UK.
“He has said he will kill himself if his extradition is ordered, that in itself is the strongest motivation for someone to abscond,” noted Mr Lewis.
Nirav Modi’s barrister, Hugo Keith, argued a change in circumstances in the doubling of the security offered to the court, from the previous 2 million pounds to 4 million pounds and also a privately-paid guard service to ensure constant monitoring alongside electronic tagging.
Besides his client’s “mental state” in Wandsworth prison, he informed the court of an extortion attack earlier on Wednesday when two inmates entered his cell 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 Nirav Modi is wrongly referred to as a billionaire diamantaire,” said Keith, accusing the Indian government of having “thoroughly blackened” Nirav Modi’s name as a “world-class schemer”.
He argued at length about the diamond merchant’s difficulties in preparing for his case from inside prison, where he is locked up isolated and vulnerable in a cell 22 hours a day. The judge did offer to intervene with a direction to the prison authorities to allow him access to a computer in order for him to effectively prepare his defence in the case.
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.
His extradition trial is scheduled between May 11 and 15, 2020, and he must be produced via video link before a court every 28 days until the case management hearings in the case kick in from early next year.
Meanwhile, earlier in September, the Interpol had issued a red corner notice against the brother of Nirav Modi, for his alleged role in helping him. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) requested the Interpol to locate and arrest Nehal Modi who is a Belgian national.
Nehal, who lives in New York, looked after Nirav’s business in the US and Europe. He was the director of Firestar Diamond Inc and they filed for bankruptcy in the US just after they fled India.
(With PTI inputs)