IN a setback to Nirav Modi, a UK court yet again rejected a bail plea of the fugitive diamond merchant on Wednesday (6).
The bail plea was rejected despite an offer of an “unprecedented bail package”, which included £4-million in security as well as house arrest akin to those imposed on terrorist suspects.
The 48-year-old diamond merchant, who is fighting extradition to India on charges of nearly £2 billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud and money laundering case, was produced before Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot at Westminster Magistrates’ Court here for his fourth attempt at bail.
Dressed smartly in a white shirt and blue sweater, Modi was taken back to Wandsworth prison in south-west London and will next appear via videolink before the same court on December 4.
“The past is a prediction of what might happen in the future,” said Judge Arbuthnot, as she concluded that she remains unconvinced that he would not interfere with witnesses or fail to surrender before the court for his trial in May 2020.
She also noted that the confirmation that Modi is suffering from “depression” is not such that would influence her to change her previous ruling to deny bail.
She, however, was extremely critical of “appalling” leaks to the Indian media last month associated with Modi’s latest bail application, which referred to his mental health condition from a confidential medical report.
Modi’s defence team blamed the leak on the Indian investigative agencies and produced a bundle of press reports dated October 30 for the judge to accuse the Indian authorities of “bad faith and egregious behaviour”.
“It is very unfortunate indeed that the doctor’s report was leaked. It should not happen and would undermine the court’s trust in the government of India, if indeed that emerges to be the source of the leak,” the Judge said.
James Lewis, appearing for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on behalf of the Indian government, stressed that the leak was “deplorable” but did not come from the Indian side.
He challenged the fresh bail application on the grounds that there had been no material change in circumstances from the previous three occasions and stressed that Modi continued to possess the means and intention to flee the UK.
“He has said he will kill himself if his extradition is ordered, that in itself is the strongest motivation for someone to abscond,” noted Lewis.
Modi’s barrister, Hugo Keith, argued a change in circumstances in the doubling of the security offered to the court, from the previous £2m to £4m and also a privately-paid guard service to ensure constant monitoring alongside electronic tagging.
Besides his client’s mental state in Wandsworth prison, he informed the court of an extortion attack earlier on Wednesday when two inmates entered his cell and kicked him to the floor and punched him in the face.
“It is obvious that it was a targeted attack following renewed media coverage recently in which Modi is wrongly referred to as a billionaire diamantaire,” said Keith, accusing the Indian government of having “thoroughly blackened” Modi’s name as a “world-class schemer”.
He argued at length about the diamond merchant’s difficulties in preparing for his case from inside prison, where he is locked up “isolated and vulnerable” in a cell 22 hours a day.
The judge did offer to intervene with a direction to the prison authorities to allow him access to a computer in order for him to effectively prepare his defence in the case.
Modi has been behind bars at Wandsworth prison since his arrest on March 19 on an extradition warrant executed by Scotland Yard on charges brought by the Indian government.
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.
His extradition trial is scheduled between May 11 and 15, 2020, and he must be produced via videolink before a court every 28 days until the case management hearings in the case kick in from early next year.