In a major setback to fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi, a UK court on Thursday ordered his extradition in connection with the Rs 13,500 crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) loan fraud case, after almost a two-year long legal battle.

The District Judge at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, Samuel Goozee, accepted the prima facie evidence against Modi for money laundering, saying: “Many of these are a matter for trial in India. I am satisfied again that there is evidence that he could be convicted,” according to reports.

Expressing satisfaction over the detention condition and medical arrangements in India, the court said, “Conditions in Barack 12 (at the Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai) look far better than his current cell in London.”

The observations came after Nirav Modi’s side had argued that he can’t be extradited to India due to his worsening mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic and the poor conditions in the Indian prisons.

According to sources, the court ruling will now be sent to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel for a sign-off. Depending on the outcome, appeals may be made in the high court by either side.

The charges against the fugitive diamantaire centre around his firms Diamonds R Us, Stellar Diamonds and Solar Exports for making fraudulent use of a credit facility offered by the PNB, known as ‘letters of undertaking’ (LoUs).

Arguing on behalf of the Indian authorities, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the UK had earlier sought to establish that a number of PNB staff conspired with Modi to ensure the LoUs. The LoUs were issued to his companies without required credit checks, sans recording the issuance of the LoUs and without charging the required commission upon the transactions. This resulted in a fraud amounting to nearly $2 billion (Rs 13,500 crore).

Nirav Modi was arrested on an extradition warrant on March 19, 2019 on charges of money laundering, conspiring to destroy evidence and intimidating witnesses.

Nirav Modi is facing probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for a large-scale fraud upon PNB through fraudulently obtaining LoUs or loan agreements. He is also being probed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a case relating to the laundering of the proceeds of that fraud.

Meanwhile, he also faces two additional charges of “causing disappearance of evidence” and “intimidating witnesses” or “criminal intimidation to cause death”, which were added on to the CBI case.

The ED has attached several assets of Nirav Modi running into crores of rupees in connection with the case.

Even Nirav Modi’s sister Purvi Modi, a Belgian national, and her husband Maiank Mehta have turned approvers in the loan fraud case. The ED in January this year had said that both became approvers for assisting the agency in the confiscation of two flats in New York, and one each in London and Mumbai, and the balance lying in two Swiss bank accounts and a bank account in Mumbai, totalling to Rs 579 crore.

In June last year, the ED had attached four bank accounts of Nirav Modi and Purvi, having a balance of Rs 283 crore, as part of its investigation into the case.

Even Nirav Modi’s uncle, Mehul Choksi of Geetanjali group who is believed believed to be in Antigua, is being probed in connection with the case.

–IANS

aks/arm