UK court dismisses Nirav Modi’s appeal against extradition
Nirav Modi can still approach the Supreme Court -- after getting permission from the high court -- or the European Court of Human Rights but, usually, the stakes need to be far higher for either court to intervene and overturn the high court’s verdict, legal experts in the UK said.
The high court in London on Wednesday dismissed Nirav Modi’s appeal against his extradition to India, ruling that it was neither unjust nor oppressive to extradite the fugitive diamantaire.
Modi can still approach the Supreme Court -- after getting permission from the high court -- or the European Court of Human Rights but, usually, the stakes need to be far higher for either court to intervene and overturn the high court’s verdict, legal experts in the UK said.
The diamantaire has 14 days to appeal against the high court decision in the Supreme Court of the UK.
HT tried to contact Zulfiquar Memon, who represents Modi and is currently in London, but he was not available to comment. The high court bench of Lord Justice Jeremy Stuart-Smith and Justice Robert Jay upheld the lower court’s decision to extradite Modi to India after hearing extensive arguments on his mental health. India’s concern now rests on whether Modi, like Vijay Mallya, has made an asylum application before the UK home office. In case he has, he will not be removed from England until a final decision is taken by the UK home secretary. If not, it’s increasingly likely that he will be extradited to India. Another crucial fact that separates his case from Mallya’s is that unlike the beer baron, Modi is not a free man and has been in Wandsworth prison since his arrest in March 2019.
Modi’s plea to appeal against the extradition had been granted in August last year on two grounds - under Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) to hear arguments if it would unjust or oppressive to extradite him due to his mental state and Section 91 of the Extradition Act 2003, also related to mental health.
During hearings in the high court at London, the 51-year-old diamond merchant wanted for cheating Punjab National Bank of ₹6,498 crore alone (both Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi cheated the bank of ₹13,578 crore), sought relief on mental health grounds saying Indian prisons are not suitable for somebody like him with suicidal tendencies.
The 51-year-old diamond merchant’s original defence was that he won’t get a fair trial in India and that he was being targeted due to political reasons. He also cited the poor conditions of jails in India and said that the evidence against him is weak. However, India contended that there is strong evidence against him for fraud and money laundering.
Rejecting Modi’s legal team’s argument about his mental health and that suicide risk will increase if he is extradited, the high court noted in the judgement: “...we are far from satisfied that Modi’s mental condition and the risk of suicide are such that it would be either unjust or oppressive to extradite him.” HT has reviewed a copy of the judgement.
The judges further asserted that Nirav Modi is not “very likely to be at the most severe end of the scale of depressive illness”. “Second, he has so far displayed no features of psychotic illness. Third, although he has exhibited persistent suicidal ideation, he has neither attempted suicide or deliberate self-harm nor disclosed plans to do so, except in the most vague and general way.”
The Indian government gave assurances to the high court that Modi will be given proper medical and psychiatric care at the Arthur Road prison in Mumbai, where he will be kept.
In the course of hearing Modi’s appeal, the high court received written and oral evidence from two psychiatrists: Professor Andrew Forrester, who is professor of forensic psychiatry at Cardiff Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust and Professor Seena Fazel who is professor of forensic psychiatry at the University of Oxford and also an expert on suicide in prisons. Apart from individual reports, they also provided a joint report on 30 August 2022.
Both Forrester and Fazel agreed that he suffers from ‘a depressive illness which is recurrent in nature and which fluctuates in severity’ which could lead to an ‘elevated’ suicide risk in the event of his extradition. The main difference is that Forrester tends to regard both Modi’s depression and the risk of suicide that he presents as rather more serious than does Professor Fazel.
Death by suicide of Modi’s mother in his presence when he was 8 years old, played a crucial role in his history of depression, finds Forrester. Modi also suffered from depression in 2008 due to stress over his business but it lasted for about a year and Modi remained well thereafter. In February 2018, he was diagnosed as suffering from a recurrent depressive disorder.
“Today’s judgement is a significant achievement in the context of CBI’s efforts to curb corruption and 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...,” the CBI said in a statement after the decision.