London: Fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi, wanted in India in connection with the nearly USD 2 billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud and money laundering case, was on Thursday further remanded to judicial custody until July 25.
Judge Jonathan Radway presided over the short remand hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court via videolink from Wandsworth prison and re-confirmed July 29 as the date for the next case management hearing in the 48-year-old diamond merchant’s extradition proceedings sought in the PNB fraud case.
The legal team for Modi, led by barrister Jessica Jones, brought to the judge’s attention an issue related to the nearly 5,000-page set of documentation submitted by the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on behalf of the Indian government.
They sought the court’s intervention in sanctioning easier access of the paperwork for Modi to be able to read through and give suitable instructions, including a request for the documents to be uploaded onto an internet-free laptop.
The judge, however, said the court can only ask for proper “access” but was unable to give further instructions. Under the UK law, Modi is expected to be produced before the court every four weeks, which now falls on July 25.
The Indian side has until July 11 to present an opening position statement, laying out the prima facie case against Modi, with the next case management hearing set for July 29 – when a timeline for extradition trial is expected to be laid out.
Modi, who has been lodged at Wandsworth prison in south-west London since his arrest in March in connection with the nearly US$ 2 billion PNB fraud and money laundering case, appeared for the first time since his bail appeal was rejected by the UK High Court earlier this month, his fourth attempt at bail.
In her judgment handed down at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Justice Ingrid Simler concluded there were “substantial grounds” to believe that Modi would fail to surrender as he does possess the means to “abscond”.
Reiterating similar concerns as those previously raised by Westminster Magistrates’ Court during earlier bail attempts, Judge Simler ruled that after considering all the material “carefully”, she had found strong evidence to suggest there had been interference with witnesses and destruction of evidence in the case and concluded it can still occur.
“The applicant has access to considerable financial resources, supported by an increased (bail bond security) offer of 2 million pounds,” the judge noted.
The High Court judge stressed that while it was not for her to take a “definitive view” on the evidence, she had proceeded on the basis that the government of India has acted in good faith in what is “undoubtedly” a serious case and a “sophisticated international conspiracy” to defraud, together with money laundering.
Modi, who has remained in judicial custody since his arrest in March, had the automatic right to file an application in the higher court and did not require permission to appeal.
Meanwhile, the first case management hearing in his extradition case took place at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on May 30, when Judge Emma Arbuthnot directed the Indian government to confirm which prison Modi is to be held in if he were to be extradited to India, setting a 14-day deadline for a confirmation of the prison plans in India.
The issue was not raised during the remand hearing on Thursday. Modi was arrested by uniformed Scotland Yard officers on an extradition warrant on March 19 and has been in prison since.
During subsequent hearings, Westminster Magistrates’ Court was 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.