The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Thursday termed UK court allowing extradition of fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi in the Rs 13,500 crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam case as a “significant” achievement in its efforts to curb corruption.
It also said that the UK court ruling is “a reminder that fugitives, who have eluded the process of law after commission of large value frauds, cannot consider themselves above the process merely because they have changed jurisdictions”.
In a statement, CBI spokesperson R.C. Joshi said that the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London has accepted the Indian government’s contention, holding that the evidence against Nirav Modi is “prima facie” sufficient to order his extradition to India to face the charges.
He said that the court also accepted the Indian government’s assurances and rejected Nirav Modi’s submissions regarding human rights violations, fair trial and prison conditions.
Rejecting the defence arguments, the UK Court decided to send his case to the Home Secretary for a final decision, he said.
“The judgement also vindicates the painstaking investigation by CBI, especially since Nirav Modi had raised various issues with regard to the admissibility of evidence, the fairness of investigation, trial, prison conditions, availability of health facilities in India and extraneous consideration, with a view to divert attention from his own acts,” he said.
Detailing the probe against Nirav Modi, Joshi said that the agency had registered the case on January 31, 2018 against the partner of three private firms and others, including then officials of PNB, on a complaint from the bank alleging that the accused had hatched a criminal conspiracy amongst themselves to defraud it to the tune of Rs 6,498 crore by fraudulently issuing Letters of Undertaking (LoUs).
He said during its investigation, the CBI conducted searches at 42 premises and arrested 15 persons.
“A large number of witnesses were examined and voluminous documents were collected. Investigation revealed that the accused PNB officials, in conspiracy with said owners of the firms and others, had fraudulently issued a large number of LoUs to overseas banks for obtaining buyer’s credit in favour of said three firms without any sanctioned limit or cash margin and without making entries in the CBS system of the bank,” he said.
The CBI spokesperson said that investigation further revealed that the fraud was allegedly perpetrated despite the circulars issued by the Reserve Bank of India.
He said that the agency filed first charge sheet on May 14, 2018 against 25 accused including Nirav Modi, and the second charge sheet was filed on December 20, 2019 against 30 accused. These included 25 accused chargesheeted earlier in respect of 150 outstanding fraudulent LOUs which had resulted in wrongful loss of Rs 6,805 crore to PNB including the interest and other charges paid by it to overseas banks which had extended buyer’s credit to the said three firms of Nirav Modi on the strength of the fraudulent LOUs.
It was also alleged that Nirav Modi, in conspiracy with other accused, had siphoned off the funds obtained as buyer’s credit through dummy companies established by him in Dubai and Hong Kong which were shown as exporters of pearls to the three Nirav Modi firms and importers of pearl-studded jewellery from them, Joshi said.
Nirav Modi had escaped India on January 1, 2018 before registration of the case by the CBI.
A non-bailable arrest warrant was issued by the trial court against him on May 23, 2018 and red notice was also issued against him on June 29, 2018 by Interpol.
Joshi said that the first extradition request was sent by the CBI to the UK in August 2018, Nirav Modi was arrested by UK Police in London on March 19, 2019 and his repeated applications for bail were rejected by the Westminster Magistrates’ Court and London High Court.
He said that after second charge sheet was filed in December 2019, additional evidences were submitted to the court in London for the total fraud amount of Rs 6,805 crore.
A second extradition request for the offences of intimidating the witnesses and destruction of evidence was also submitted to the UK government.
“The extradition proceedings against Nirav Modi were initiated before the Westminster Magistrate Court in London. In extradition requests, CBI submitted voluminous oral and documentary evidence to substantiate the charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating, criminal breach of trust, criminal misconduct by public servants, destruction of evidence and criminal intimidation,” he said.
The hearing of the first extradition request was held in Westminster Magistrates’ Court, London during May 2020 and the hearing of second extradition request during September 2020.
Even the video of the barracks of Arthur Road Prison in Mumbai was submitted by the Indian government was also played in the court, the spokesperson said.
“The hearing on admissibility of the evidence was held on November 3 last year and the final submissions by the both sides were made before the court in January 2021,” he said.
“CBI gracefully acknowledges the painstaking and continuous efforts made by the counsel of the Crown Prosecution service in forcefully presenting Indian government’s case and also the efforts of various government agencies, especially officers of High Commission of India, London, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs, in coordinating the extradition trial, timely submission of evidences and assurances and prompt follow up of the case at all stages,” Joshi added.