London: Fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi will not receive bail, a Westminster Magistrates’ Court decided here on Friday.
In court, India levelled allegations of coercion and destruction of material evidence against Modi to oppose his bail plea. These allegations largely convinced the court that Modi should be kept behind bars.
Taking up the mantle for India, Crown Prosecution Service barrister Toby Cadman submitted a fresh file in the case with additional material obtained from the Central Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement Directorate Officials who are in London to assist CPS in this case.
According to government sources, India was adamant to not let Modi secure bail and had evidence to show how the businessman was not just a flight risk but could also subvert the process of justice.
“Modi has committed a high value fraud against a public sector bank in India. There could be no conditions that can be put forward to satisfy the court to give him bail”, Cadman said, as part of his opening argument remarks..
Elaborating on this, Cadman told the court that Modi had threatened a witness Ashish Lad “to kill him” or accept a “Rs 2 million incentive to provide a false statement”. Apparently another witness Nilesh Mistry and three other witnesses, “who have knowledge of the fraud”, were also easy victims to Modi’s attempt to undermine the course of justice.
Witnesses, who were sent to Egypt by Modi including Subhash Parab, have testified against Modi. India has also accused the diamantaire of destroying mobile phones and a server to get rid of crucial evidence.
The prosecution also raised Modi’s extensive travel, large resources, and his attempt to secure citizenship of Vanuatu, a small island country in the South Pacific Ocean, but a tax haven with no income tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax or exchange control.
Cadman told that court that India suspects that Modi has the resources and is willing to settle in a jurisdiction that may not be willing to extradite him to India. He is a “man of significant wealth” and has made “transfers into two of his account of £878,000 and $12 million in 2017-18”, Cadman told the court.
Modi is wanted for allegedly orchestrating one of the biggest scams in Indian banking history. India’s request to extradite him saw the diamond trader arrested last week and produced in court on March 19. He was denied bail then and sent to HM Prison Wandsworth.
After languishing in one of UK’s most overcrowded prison for ten days, Nirav Modi when produced in the Westminster Magistrate’s Court today looked a man broken but perhaps not beaten. Clad in a similar white shirt and black trousers, Modi sat with his head bowed through most of the hearing, only ever lifting his head to look straight with a blank expression.
Taking up the arguments for Modi was barrister Clare Montgomery and solicitor Anand Doobey, both also represent Kingfisher Airlines owner Vijay Mallya who faces extradition for defrauding Indian banks.
Montgomery argued that Modi had a right to bail as someone arrested in a domestic fraud case and the “notoriety” that the case has accumulated in India should have no bearing on his bail application. She insisted that his arrival here was a planned move to establish “UK as a central base” for his business and claimed that he had “not travelled outside since his arrival to the UK”. This was later opposed by the CPS who declared that Modi had travelled to New York in February last year.
Calling the “issues” with Punjab National Bank “unexpected”, Montgomery insisted that Modi was legitimately staying in the UK in a “highly visible way” – he had rented a property in his own name, registered a company and was employed under a contract in his own name and was opening a bank account for himself. She claimed that the police had visited his office at least once and his lawyer Doobay had been in touch with the extradition unit. She also stressed that “the Vanuatu application was made at the end of 2017, before the PNB scam emerged”.
“He is a wanted man and only qualifies to stay in the UK,” Montgomery said, adding that fears of him escaping were “just nonsense”. She proposed Modi be put under “effective house arrest” with electronic monitoring and also a 24×7 charged up and switched on mobile phone. He would also surrender his travel documents (some expired, some not) to Hong Kong, Singapore and UAE. He was also willing to offer £1 million as surety. In the last hearing this offer was £500,000.
Arbuthnot refused his bail on the grounds that the amount of the fraud was “substantial”, there was a “lack of community ties” as his son, who was studying in London, has now moved to an American university, and he had “large resources” available to him. His application of citizenship to a small tax haven island in the South Pacific sea Vanuatu, was proof enough that Modi had “interest in moving away from India.”
The hearing that began shortly after 12:30 pm, saw Arbuthnot open her comments with “This gives a sense of déjà vu?” to which Montgomery quickly added, “hope not too strong”.
In the Vijay Mallya case, Arbuthnot had found sufficient grounds to agree to extradite him to India, much to Montgomery’s disappointment. However unlike Mallya, who sailed through his extradition hearings on bail, Modi’s bail was denied.
As Modi stood with tired eyes and a forced smile pasted on his lips, Arbuthnot told Modi that he will now appear before her through video conferencing on April 26.
India, through the CPS, has a deadline of May 24 to submit all evidence against Modi, following which the defence gets six weeks to prepare and submit their case. This will be followed by case management hearings after which a final trial date will be announced. The trial could go on for several months
All parties agreed that the paperwork provided by India required a great deal of work with indexing and pagination and this would be important as the trial progresses.
Meanwhile, Modi has the option to approach the High Court and appeal against the district court’s decision on his bail application.