By Anand Singh
London, Feb 26 (IANS) Even as the UK’s West Minister’s Magistrate court on Thursday cleared the decks for the extradition of fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi in connection with the Rs 13,500 crore Punjab National Bank fraud case, District Judge Samuel Gooze came down heavily on former Supreme Court Judge Markandey Katju, saying Gooze attached “little weight to Katju’s “expert opinion” as it was “less than objective and reliable”.
In the 83-page judgement, the UK Westminster Court said that Justice Katju had deposed before it as an expert witness for Nirav Modi, opposing the Government of India’s plea for extradition on the ground that he was unlikely to receive a “free and fair trial in India”.
The order stated that the written submission filed by Katju in the Nirav Modi case states that the fugitive diamantaire was subjected to “media trial” in India and that in such a “hostile atmosphere”, he was unlikely to receive a free and fair trial in India.
The former Supreme Court judge also highlighted that judiciary in India was “highly politicised and corrupt”.
In his judgment, Westminister Magistrate’s court District Judge Sam Gooze, who heard the Nirav Modi case, discarded Katju’s evidence and made certain sharp observations against him.
“Despite having been a former Supreme Court judge in India until his retirement in 2011 his evidence was in my assessment less than objective and reliable. His evidence in Court appeared tinged with resentment towards former senior judicial colleagues. It had hallmarks of an outspoken critic with his own personal agenda,” the UK Court said.
The Court also criticised the former Supreme Court Judge for going to the press before giving evidence. “It was a questionable conduct for someone who served the Indian Judiciary at such a high level,” it observed.
The court order further noted that despite making commentary about the fairness of any trial process in India, Katju accepted on a number of occasions in cross-examination that he had not considered the evidence and it is evident from his report he certainly had not considered the full requests from the government of India.
Gooze in his judgement said, “Despite being highly critical of the trial by media and its impact on NDM’s (Nirav Modi) case, he (Katju) took the astonishing decision to brief journalists in relation to the evidence he was giving in these proceedings, creating his own media storm and adding to the heightened media interest to date.”
The UK Court also noted that though Justice Katju was critical of former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi accepting a Rajya Sabha nomination after his retirement. “He (Katju) made bold assertions about corruption across the judiciary in India (including former Chief Justices) and that the Supreme Court had surrendered itself to the executive. Of note, despite being critical of a former Chief Justice passing a verdict in a Supreme Court case in exchange for a nomination to the upper house of Parliament in India on his retirement on a quid pro quo basis, suggesting collusion and corruption, Justice Katju himself secured appointment by the Government to Chairman of the Press Council of India following his own retirement”, the court said in its judgment.
The Court observed that there was no cogent and reliable evidence that the judiciary in India was no longer independent, or capable of managing a fair trial even in a high profile case with media interest.
“As Helen Malcolm Queen’s counsel and Nicholas Hearn correctly remind me in their final written submissions, of the observations made by the Solicitor General of India. India is governed by it written constitution which has at its core the fundamental principle of the independence of the judiciary by virtue of the separation of powers between judiciary, the executive and the legislature. There is no cogent or reliable evidence that the judiciary in India are no longer independent, or capable of managing a fair trial even where it is a high-profile fraud with significant media interest”.
During the cross examination, the lawyer representing the Government of India, Helen Malcom Queen’s Counsel and Nicholas Heren, also highlighted some ‘astonishing’ public comments made by Justice Katju.
In cross-examination, Justice Katju made some astonishing, inappropriate and grossly insensitive comparisons. “He stated that because the BJP cannot solve the economic crises it is just like Hitler and the Jews. Nirav Modi is the Jew that must be blamed for all the problems in India. When challenged about his imputations about the investigation, he stated that he was not commenting on the merits of the case but that NDM cannot get a fair trial,” the court said.
On Thursday, in a major setback to Nirav Modi a UK court ordered his extradition in connection with the Rs 13,500 crore PNB loan fraud case, after almost a two-year long legal battle.
The District Judge accepted the prima facie evidence against Nirav Modi for money laundering, saying: “I am satisfied that Nirav Modi’s extradition to India is in compliance per human rights.
The District Judge also said that Nirav Modi has the right to appeal the order.
“There is no evidence that if extradited, Nirav Modi will not get justice,” the judge said.
Nirav Modi was arrested on an extradition warrant on March 19, 2019 on charges of money laundering, conspiring to destroy evidence and intimidating witnesses.
Nirav Modi is facing probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for a large-scale fraud upon PNB through fraudulently obtaining LoUs or loan agreements. He is also being probed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a case relating to the laundering of the proceeds of that fraud.
Meanwhile, he also faces two additional charges of “causing disappearance of evidence” and “intimidating witnesses” or “criminal intimidation to cause death”, which were added on to the CBI case.
By Anand Singh