London, Apr 26 (PTI) Fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi was Friday further remanded into custody till May 24 by a UK court hearing his extradition case 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 arrest last month, appeared before Westminster Magistrates’ Court Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot via videolink from the jail.
Dressed in a beige and black sweater and looking slightly less dishevelled than his last appearance in person before the court in March, Modi spoke only to confirm his name.
“Mr Modi, you will be back for another short hearing via videolink on May 24, with a full hearing in the case planned for May 30 when you will be produced in person,” Judge Arbuthnot told the diamantaire.
She asked his barrister Jessica Jones if there were any matters to be considered and was told there were none, which confirmed that Modi’s team did not file another bail application before the court.
The May 24 hearing will be another procedural one, to meet the 28-day timeline for judicial custody in such cases in the UK. The case will then proceed to a full case management hearing, scheduled for May 30 so far, when Modi will be produced in person.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), arguing on behalf of the Indian authorities, was represented by barrister Nilofar Bawla at Friday’s hearing, which followed a second bail application being rejected by Judge Arbuthnot on March 29 on the grounds that there was a “substantial risk he would fail to surrender”.
“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 noted in her ruling.
Modi’s legal team could have made a third bail application at the court on Friday but only if the grounds for the bail plea are substantially different. The CPS has previously confirmed that Modi intends to appeal against the rejection of bail in the UK High Court. However, such an application has not been logged so far.
Previously, Modi’s legal team, led by solicitor Anand Doobay, had offered 1 million pounds as security alongside an offer to meet stringent electronic tag restrictions on their client’s movements, “akin to house arrest”.
The diamond dealer’s “lack of community ties” in the UK and an attempt to acquire the citizenship of Vanuatu – a remote island located in the South Pacific Ocean – 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”.
CPS barrister Toby Cadman had argued that there was a “substantial risk” that the prime accused in the PNB fraud case would flee and attempt to interfere with witnesses and evidence.
“Due to the nature of his business he has at his disposal diamonds gold and pearls,” Cadman told the court.
During the course of the hearing last month, it emerged that Modi had made death threats to witnesses and also attempted to destroy evidence such as mobile phones and a server holding “material critical to the fraud”.
Modi’s defence team, the same as that deployed by former Kingfisher Airlines boss Vijay Mallya in his extradition case, denied the allegations and said their client saw the UK as a “haven where his case will be fairly considered”.
Modi is believed to have been living in the UK on an Investor Visa, applied for in 2015 – at a time when the so-called “golden visa” route was relatively easier for super-rich individuals to acquire residency rights in the UK based on a minimum of 2-million pound investment.
He was arrested by uniformed Scotland Yard officers in central London on March 19. During his first court appearance a day later, it emerged that the diamantaire accused of defrauding PNB via fraudulent Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) had been in possession of multiple passports, since revoked by the Indian authorities.