New Delhi: Indian Premier League (IPL) founder, Lalit Modi, during his tenure as former vice-president with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was accused of bid-rigging and money laundering, along with contravention of provisions of Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (FEMA) for several hundred crores.
A recently viral video, showing him in the presence of an event hosted by former Solicitor General of India Harish Salve has raised questions about Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government’s earlier stated commitment to bringing him to justice. Did the Modi government attempt to extradite Lalit Modi to India? If yes, did it stop trying?
Lalit Modi has claimed that he cannot be called a “fugitive” because he has not been convicted by any court. But he has been wanted by Indian law enforcement agencies since he left India in 2010 and is accused of embezzling around Rs 125 crores from the country’s cricket board during 2009 and 2010.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India had filed a police complaint against him and six others in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, in October 2010. In December 2012, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) initiated an investigation on the basis of this complaint.
However, little progress appears to have been made in securing Lalit Modi’s return to India. In fact, the investigation against him came to a standstill in late 2017 and has remained stagnant under the tenure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Wire can confirm that in October 2017, the Tamil Nadu government formally sought the transfer of the Lalit Modi case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Yet, the nodal department responsible for the CBI, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), which operates directly under the purview of the Prime Minister, has failed to take a decision on the request in the six years since it was made.
This inaction is in contrast to PM Modi’s claim of “acting tough” against fugitive economic offenders.
“Those who have stolen India’s money, they will have to compensate for each and every penny,” the Prime Minister had said in January 2019.
Genesis of the case
Thirteen years have now lapsed since Lalit Modi fled India. In May 2010, he left citing concerns for his safety from criminal elements. In 2022, he said the ‘fixing mafia’ and the jealousy in the BCCI were also to blame for his departure.
A few months after he left, in October 2010, the then BCCI honorary secretary N. Srinivasan filed a police complaint with the Chennai Central Crime Branch (CCB) in Tamil Nadu, naming Lalit Modi and six others for defrauding the BCCI of Rs 753 crores between 2009 and 2010.
On his part, Lalit Modi claimed to have made all financial decisions after keeping BCCI officials in the loop.
In 2012, based on the FIR number Cr.No. 507/2010 the Enforcement Directorate launched parallel investigations into the matter, looking at the money laundering angle.
On August 20, 2015, the ED, via the CBI, requested INTERPOL (the International Criminal Police Organization) to issue a Red Corner Notice (RCN) against Lalit Modi. An RCN is an international law enforcement request to locate and temporarily detain a person pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal actions.
However, on March 28, 2017, INTERPOL rejected ED’s request, citing “insufficient judicial data” against Modi and the requirement for India to file for an extradition request first, before seeking an RCN.
In November 2016, a PMLA court had allowed the ED to begin the extradition process against Lalit Modi. All extradition requests are routed through the Ministry of External Affairs. But as per an RTI response of August 17, 2018 to this reporter, even two years later, the ministry had not received a formal extradition request from any law enforcement agency.
INTERPOL also noted that no charge sheet had been established against Lalit Modi at the time.
The INTERPOL’s letter rejecting India’s request for an RCN against Lalit Modi was shared by him on Instagram in March 2017.
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INTERPOL noted that enquiries are still in progress concerning the existence of direct evidence to factually sustain the allegations against Lalit Modi.
“The purpose of a Red Notice is not to obtain the transfer of a person in order to assist in an investigation or give evidence in proceedings. Its purpose rather is to facilitate the seeking of a person’s extradition,” a copy of the order shared by Lalit Modi on social media read.
Chennai Police’s FIR
Meanwhile, the Chennai Police investigation also appears to have made zero progress, even after seven years. Since the investigation had seemingly not taken off, a formal charge sheet against Modi was not filed in a court of law.
For the ED to prove charges of money laundering, the law requires the original offence, called predicate offence – in this case the FIR filed before the Chennai Police – to be firmly established. This is because if a person who is alleged to have committed criminal activity by way of an FIR is found innocent, any benefit he derives as a result of such innocent activity cannot be termed laundering of tainted money and as a result, a money laundering charge cannot, naturally, survive.
Since the Chennai Police FIR is the only predicate offence against Lalit Modi, it was crucial that the police conclude their investigation and file charge sheets, thus creating sufficient “judicial data”.
A charge sheet in the predicate offence is also mandatory for all extradition requests made to the United Kingdom.
In March 2017, a day after INTERPOL conveyed its rejection, the then ED director Karnal Singh, visibly frustrated, sent a strongly-worded letter to the Director General of Tamil Nadu Police.
The letter noted that the Chennai Police’s Central Crime Branch had not shared any progress on the Lalit Modi case despite repeated requests. “The inability of the Tamil Nadu Police in logically concluding the investigation of the case is causing embarrassment to the Law Enforcement Agencies,” it further read.
Things moved after this.
The case was quickly transferred to the Crime Branch Criminal Investigation Department (CB CID) of the Tamil Nadu Police. In July 2017, on the state prosecutor’s advice, the police declared they had “no territorial jurisdiction” over the case and recommended its transfer to the Mumbai Police or the CBI.
The Mumbai Police, however, declined to take over, citing the FIR’s origin in Chennai, and returned the case to the Tamil Nadu Police. After again seeking the state prosecutor’s opinion, on October 31, 2017, the Tamil Nadu government recommended a CBI probe and requested the Union government to allow the takeover.
What the Union government did
Although close to six years have passed since the CBI probe request was received by the Prime Minister’s DoPT, the request has neither been accepted nor declined.
Sources within the administration told this reporter that the Tamil Nadu government was asked to respond to certain queries about the case only three months ago.
“The request for a CBI investigation has still not been accepted. It is pending,” the source said.
As per an RTI reply to this reporter on July 29, 2019, the DoPT had confirmed that the request was still “under consideration”.
In August 2020, the DoPT altogether rejected another RTI filed by this reporter seeking an update on the case. “The information is exempted,” it read.
Sources within the administration say that no progress has been made in investigating Lalit Modi’s cases – both the one in which the the Tamil Nadu government requested a CBI investigation and the PMLA case registered by the ED, in which the court had permitted ED to seek extradition.
Since there is no investigation against Lalit Modi, no charge sheet can be filed, and therefore, a request for extradition or RCN would not succeed. Thus, it appears that little has been done to address INTERPOL’s main ground for rejection of an RCN against Modi – “insufficient judicial data”.
The Narendra Modi government’s long delay in deciding upon this request for a CBI probe against Lalit Modi is unusual since investigating agencies like the CBI and ED in recent years, under the present regime, have been quick to file cases, summon for interrogation, and arrest or detain several political leaders in the opposition camps.
In March 2011, the then Congress government had revoked Lalit Modi’s Indian passport under Section 10(3)(C) of The Passport Act, 1967. According to this section, the government may order impounding “if the passport authority deems it necessary to do so in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of India, friendly relations of India with any foreign country, or in the interest of the general public.”
In August 2014, the Delhi high court restored Modi’s passport saying it was “wrongly revoked” and that ED’s case was moving too slowly and lacked substantial evidence. The government did not challenge the court’s order.
In 2015, reports noted how Keith Vaz, a Labour Party member of parliament in the United Kingdom used the name of the then external affairs minister of India, the late Sushma Swaraj, to exert influence on senior immigration officials, urging them to expedite the processing of British travel documents for Lalit Modi during a time before the court order came in 2014, when his passport was still revoked.
Both Lalit Modi and Sushma Swaraj acknowledged the truth of these revelations but defended their actions as purely driven by humanitarian considerations. Modi’s wife was in Portugal and was suffering from cancer. Subsequently, Modi was granted permission to visit his wife on multiple occasions.
Lalit Modi was also thought to be close to BJP leader and former chief minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje. During her initial term as CM from 2003 to 2008, he gained substantial prominence in Rajasthan and was often referred to as the “super chief minister”.
Lalit Modi was one of the ‘Modis’ referred to by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in his 2019 election campaign speech at Kolar in Karnataka. A defamation case filed against Gandhi led to a conviction this year, along with a two-year sentence that led to Gandhi’s suspension from parliament. The Supreme Court later stayed the sentence and his membership of the Lok Sabha was restored.
Saurav Das is an independent investigative journalist and tweets @OfficialSauravD.