London: Fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi, wanted in India in connection with the nearly USD 2 billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud and money laundering case, appeared before a UK court on Thursday via videolink from his London prison and was further remanded in judicial custody till September 19.
The routine “call-over” hearing in the 48-year-old's extradition case at Westminster Magistrates' Court was presided over by Judge Tan Ikram, who told Modi that his trial dates would be confirmed at the next call-over hearing on September 19, when he will again appear via videolink.
“No progress today, I'm afraid,” Judge Ikram said, as he gave directions for the court clerk to seek a confirmation of the proposed five-day extradition trial dates starting May 11, 2020. There is also likely to be a case management hearing in the case ahead of the trial in February next year.
Modi, who was dressed in a track suit, appeared in a sombre mood during the very brief hearing. He has been lodged at Wandsworth prison in south-west London since his arrest in March on an extradition warrant executed by Scotland Yard on charges brought by the Indian government, being represented by the UK's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot presided over the last remand hearing in July at Westminster Magistrates' Court via videolink from the prison where Modi is being held, during which she had indicated that the dates for an estimated five-day trial would be mutually agreed by both sides soon.
As per the timelines discussed during the brief hearing, the judge said she expected to receive all the evidence and skeleton argument bundles in the case by April 8, with a five-day hearing then expected to be slotted in May next year.
Under UK law, Modi is expected to be produced before the court within a 28-day period. Since his arrest, Modi has attempted to get bail but it has been rejected multiple times, the fourth and final time being by the UK High Court in June. In her judgment handed down at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Justice Ingrid Simler had concluded there were “substantial grounds” to believe that Modi would fail to surrender as he does possess the means to “abscond”.
Reiterating similar concerns as those previously raised by Westminster Magistrates' Court during earlier bail attempts, Judge Simler ruled that after considering all the material “carefully”, she had found strong evidence to suggest there had been interference with witnesses and destruction of evidence in the case and concluded it can still occur. “The applicant has access to considerable financial resources, supported by an increased [bail bond security] offer of GBP 2 million,” the judge noted.
The High Court judge stressed that while it was not for her to take a "definitive view" on the evidence, she had proceeded on the basis that the government of India has acted in good faith in what is “undoubtedly” a serious case and a “sophisticated international conspiracy” to defraud, together with money laundering.
Modi was arrested by uniformed Scotland Yard officers on an extradition warrant on March 19 and has been in prison since. 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.