LONDON: Nirav Modi will be extradited to India from the UK to face charges of conspiring to defraud Punjab National Bank of more than a billion dollars, a judge ruled today.
Judge Samuel Goozee, sitting at Westminster Magistrate’s Court in London, rejected each of the grounds laid out by Modi’s defence against extradition despite criticising the presentation of evidence by the Government of India.
Modi faced multiple charges filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate.
It is alleged that Modi and his associates colluded with officials at the state-owned Punjab National Bank to defraud the bank out of more than $1.4 billion by using a credit facility known as Letters of Undertaking, a form of bank guarantee to facilitate international transactions.
The court had been told that the proceeds of the fraud were then laundered through a series of shell companies manned by dummy directors and located in Dubai and Hong Kong.
Modi is also charged with the destruction of evidence and intimidating witnesses. On all the charges, Judge Goozee found that Modi had a case to answer for and should be returned to India.
Modi’s defence had contended that the LOUs had been legitimate business transactions and that it was all a commercial dispute involving “authorized though ill-advised lending”. Judge Goozee dismissed this, ruling that several PNB officials along with Modi and his associates used a “ponzi-like structure” to launder the funds obtained through the LOU’s.
“He (Modi) was not using the LOU’s in a permissible fashion”, Judge Goozee said, adding that “it wasn’t in PNB’s interest to create such huge exposure to a debt of this magnitude”.
Modi’s defence team, led by Clare Montgomery QC, who had previously represented the liquor baron Vijay Mallya had relied on a legal strategy very similar to the one used in Mallya’s case, claiming that Modi would not receive a fair trial, that Modi was the victim of a political witch hunt, that the Indian judiciary was not independent and that Modi would not receive a fair trial.
Judge Goozee again rejected those claims.
He dismissed the expert witnesses on judicial independence in India – Justices Markandey Katju and Abhay Thipsay – that had testified in court in support of Modi’s defence claims.
Judge Goozee said that he found Justice Thipsay’s behaviour and attitude questionable. He also dismissed Justice Katju’s contention that Indian judges issued politically favourable rulings as they wanted good post-retirement positions citing Justice Katju’s own elevation to head the prestigious Press Council of India.
“India is governed by its constitution which ensures the independence of the judiciary. Indian courts are very capable of conducting a fair trial. There is no evidence to suggest otherwise. Mr Modi won’t be denied a fair trial,” Judge Goozee said.
In his summation, Judge Goozee also addressed another claim made by the Modi defence questioning the independence of the Indian judiciary citing a high-profile press conference conducted by Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in which he claimed that the Congress was trying to save Modi.
Judge Goozee said that media attention, including “ill-advised political commentary” in high profile cases such as that of Modi’s was “not unique to India”. He said that that interest had been heightened by the allegations against Modi which involved defrauding “significant sums from a state-owned entity”.
Having considered the transcript of the press briefing given by minister Prasad, Judge Goozee ruled, that it was clear in his view that it was “purely a press conference given in a political context”. (ANI)