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UK court denies bail to Nirav Modi

Last updated on: March 29, 2019 23:23 IST

The judge fixed April 26 as the next date of hearing when he will appear via video link from jail.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com

A UK court rejected Nirav Modi's second bail application on Friday, saying there are "substantial grounds" to believe the fugitive diamantaire will fail to surrender.

Looking more dishevelled and dressed in a similar white shirt as his first court appearance last week, the 48-year-old was brought to the dock to be produced before Westminster Magistrates Court Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot and sat behind a glass enclosure as the hearing got underway.

 

Rejecting Modi's bail plea after hearing both defence and prosecution, Judge Arbuthnot said his attempt to try and seek citizenship of Vanuatu, a remote island country located in the South Pacific Ocean, shows he was trying to move away from India at an important time.

"There are substantial grounds to believe he will fail to surrender," said the judge, who fixed April 26 as the next date of hearing.

Modi will appear via video link from jail at the next hearing.

Earlier, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), arguing on behalf of Indian authorities, said Modi should not be granted bail because he posed a significant flight risk and had even issued death threats to witnesses related to his fraud and money laundering case.

CPS barrister Toby Cadman told Judge Arbuthnot that there was a "substantial risk" that the prime accused in the Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud to the "amount of between $1 and 2 billion", would flee and attempt to interfere with witnesses and evidence.

"Given the nature and seriousness of charges and the resources available to him… there will be an overwhelming desire to flee the jurisdiction and interfere with the administration of justice," said Cadman.

Giving details of Modi's attempt to interfere with witnesses, the CPS barrister made specific reference to one such witness, Ashish Lad, who Modi "threatened to kill in a phone call" and also offered him an incentive of Rs 2 million to provide a false statement.

Nilesh Mistry and three other witnesses were similarly targeted by Modi and mobile phones and a server holding "material critical to the fraud" were destroyed at request of Modi, raising fears of further "destroying of evidence" if bail was granted, the court was told.

"Due to the nature of his business he has at his disposal diamonds, gold and pearls," added Cadman.

The court was told about Modi's attempt to attain citizenship in jurisdictions less likely to be willing to extradite him to India, including Vanuatu at the end of 2017 on the basis of a $200,000 investment.

However, Vanuatu citizenship request was declined as a result of the ongoing Indian criminal investigation.

Modi's defence team, led by barrister Clare Motgomery - who was also the barrister for former Kingfisher Airlines boss Vijay Mallya in his extradition case - opposed the CPS claims of Modi being a flight risk and stressed that in fact Modi sees UK as a "haven where his case will be fairly considered".

"The size and nature of these allegations is not a safe touchstone by which you can judge if he should be granted bail," said Montgomery, who claimed a series of "underlying issues" were behind PNB withdrawing insecure lending.

The defence offered to submit Modi to an electronic tag for monitoring in an attempt to secure bail for him.

They also disputed the death threats allegations to witnesses by Modi.

At the very start of the hearing, Judge Arbuthnot said she was getting a sense of "deja vu", in reference to her having ordered the extradition of Mallya in December last year.

"Do we know which part of India he [Modi] is being sought in," the judge asked, to try and establish which jail Modi is likely to be held in.

She was told by the CPS that it would be an extradition to Mumbai and that he may in fact be held in the same Arthur Road Jail as that prepared for Mallya, to which the judge said in a light-hearted vein that it could even be the same cell as we know "there is space" from the previous video submitted during Mallya extradition trial.

In another throwback to the Mallya trial, Montgomery raised the issue of the state of the paperwork submitted by the Indian authorities, claiming it "made her cry" at one stage.

The judge concurred with her and was very firm about proper indexing of all documents to be submitted to the court in relation to the case.

Cadman assured the court that the “point had been conveyed” to the Indian authorities.

A three-member joint Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) team from India was present in court and handed over a new file of evidence which was review by the judge before the hearing.

Modi is believed to have been living in the UK on an Investor Visa, applied for in 2015 - at a time when the so-called “golden visa” route was relatively easier for super-rich individuals to acquire residency rights in the UK based on a minimum of 2-million pound investment.

According to official data, around 76 Indians have used this visa category to gain permanent settlement in Britain since 2009, with a peak of 16 Indian applicants in 2013 and seven last year.

The UK has since tightened the criteria for the category over concerns of its misuse.

Modi was denied bail by District Judge Marie Mallon at his first hearing soon after his arrest by Scotland Yard officers from a central London bank branch as he tried to open a new bank account and has been in custody at HMP Wandsworth prison in south-west London since then.

Chronology of Nirav Modi's case

January 29, 2018: Punjab National Bank (PNB) files police complaint against Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi and others accusing fraud to the tune of Rs 2.81 billion.

February 5, 2018: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) launches an investigation into the alleged scam.

February 16, 2018: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) seizes a cumulative Rs 56.74 billion worth of diamonds, gold and jewellery from Nirav Modi's home and offices.

February 17, 2018: The CBI makes first arrest in the case. Two PNB employees and an executive of Nirav Modi's group detained.

February 17, 2018: Government suspends passports of Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi for four weeks in connection with the PNB fraud.

February 21, 2018: CBI arrests CFO of Nirav Modi's firm and two other senior executives of his firms. It also seals his farmhouse in Alibaug.

February 22, 2018: The ED seizes nine luxury cars belonging to Nirav Modi and his firms.

February 27, 2018: A magistrate's court issues a bailable arrest warrant against diamond trader Nirav Modi.

June 2, 2018: The Interpol issues Red Corner Notice against Nirav Modi for money laundering.

June 25, 2018: The ED moves a special court in Mumbai seeking Nirav Modi's extradition.

August 3, 2018: The Indian Government sends a request for the extradition of Nirav Modi to the UK authorities.

August 20, 2018: The CBI officials request Interpol Manchester to detain Nirav Modi after the latter informs about his presence in London to Indian authorities.

December 27, 2018: The UK informs India that Nirav Modi is living in the country.

March 9, 2019: British newspaper 'The Telegraph' confronts Nirav Modi on London's streets and confirms his presence in the country.

March 9, 2019: The ED says government of the UK has sent an extradition request of fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi to a UK court for further proceeding.

March 18, 2019: Westminister Court in London issues arrest warrant against fugitive Nirav Modi after the Indian government request was forwarded to the court by the UK Home Office.

March 20, 2019: Nirav Modi arrested in London and produced in Westminister Court, which denies him bail.

March 20, 2019: Nirav Modi sent to Her Majesty's Prison (HMP) Wandsworth till March 29.

March 29, 2019: A Westminster Magistrates Court in London rejects Nirav Modi's second bail application, saying there are "substantial grounds" to believe that he will fail to surrender.

The judge fixes April 26 as the next date of hearing when he will appear via video link from jail.

Aditi Khanna in london
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