By Aditi Khanna
London, Apr 30 (PTI) Fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi is making another bail plea at the UK court where he is undergoing extradition proceedings to India in the USD 1-billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud and money laundering case.
The 48-year-old, who has been behind bars at Wandsworth prison in south-west London since his two previous bail applications were rejected following his arrest on March 19, is to appear before Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London on May 8 for a third attempt.
“The next hearing will be on 8 May. The application for bail will be heard before Judge Emma Arbuthnot at Westminster Magistrates’ Court,” said a spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which is representing the Indian authorities in the extradition case.
Barrister Nick Hearn from Furnival Chambers will represent the CPS at the bail hearing, while Modi will be represented by Clare Montgomery of Matrix Chambers.
At the last hearing in the case on April 26, when Modi had appeared before Judge Arbuthnot via videolink from prison, his legal team had made no application for bail and he was further remanded in judicial custody until May 24. While his two previous bail pleas have been rejected on the grounds that there was a “substantial risk he would fail to surrender”, he can make a third application if there is a considerable change in circumstances.
Modi is reportedly relying on “new evidence” and will seek to persuade the judge that this constitutes a change of circumstances so that he can be permitted to make another bail application next Wednesday.
His legal team, led by solicitor Anand Doobay, have previously offered one million pounds as security alongside an offer to meet stringent electronic tag restrictions on their client’s movements, “akin to house arrest”. It remains to be seen how they plan to bolster the application for a third attempt before the same court.
“This is a case of substantial fraud, with loss to a bank in India of between USD 1-2 billion. I am not persuaded that the conditional bail sought will meet the concerns of the government of India in this case,” Judge Arbuthnot had said, when rejecting Modi’s last bail attempt.
She also noted that “very unusually in a fraud case” the accused had made death threats to witnesses and also attempted to destroy evidence in the case. The diamond dealer’s “lack of community ties” in the UK and an attempt to acquire the citizenship of Vanuatu in late 2017 went against him as the judge said it seemed like he was trying to “move away from India at an important time”.
Montgomery, Modi’s barrister, had made a series of offers to try and convince the judge to grant bail, even bringing up his pet dog.
“He did have a son at Charterhouse [school in London] who has now gone to university in the States and as a sign of ageing parents, led Mr Modi to get a dog instead. None of these actions are emblematic of someone setting out to flee the country,” she had claimed.
“It is nonsense to say that he is a flight risk. He does not have a safe haven open to him and he has not travelled or applied for citizenship elsewhere he only qualifies for leave to remain in this country, she said.
Modi was arrested by uniformed Scotland Yard officers in central London on March 19. 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.
At the hearing last week, the court was told that May 30 had been tentatively fixed as the first case management hearing in his extradition case. It remains to be seen how the case will progress after the new bail plea next week.
By Aditi Khanna