UK court rejects fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi’s fifth bail plea
The high court of England and Wales on Thursday denied bail to diamantaire Nirav Modi for the fifth time after his defence team failed to convince the judge that a new package of ‘exceptionally stringent bail conditions’ would make it impossible for him to flee.
Modi, 49, was arrested in March 2019 and is facing extradition to India to face charges of fraud and money-laundering linked to a Mumbai branch of the Punjab National Bank. Lodged in the Wandsworth jail, Modi appeared by videolink, dressed in T-shirt and jeans.
Modi’s team offered 4 million pounds as security deposit and obey ‘house arrest’ conditions, in which even to move from bedroom of his central London flat to the hall or other part of the flat, he would have to ask for permission from a 24-hour security guard.
Modi offered to pay for the surveillance by a company, with whom a memorandum of understanding was placed before the court. He also offered to have his phone conversations recorded and meeting only approved visitors.
Nicholas Hearn, barrister for the Crown Prosecution Service appearing on India’s behalf, countered the bail request on the ground that the arrangement with the company was not underpinned by law; nothing had changed since the last time when he was denied bail.
“The security company arrangement is not practical. The guard will not be contractually obliged to stop Modi (if he were to leave his flat), but only to inform the police”, he said. Judge Dove agreed, adding that by the time the police arrive, “it may be too late”.
Hearn also countered the claim that Modi will not interfere with witnesses by saying that he knew languages other than English. Even if his phone conversations were recorded, it would pose practical difficulties; besides, Indian investigators in his case are not based in the UK.
Modi’s lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, told the court that he had been attacked in jail several times, and had also been the subject of an extortion attempt. His mental health had deteriorated in jail, leading to further depression, the barrister contended.
Fitzgerald said that instead of fleeing, Modi had offered to surrender before his arrest in March 2019. He had shown faith in the British legal system; did not have any incentive to flee to an uncertain fate to another country, nor to breach bail conditions and return to jail.
Judge Dove, however, recalled previous judgements that noted that the scale of allegations of fraud against Modi amounting to nearly 1 billion US dollars, and concluded that he is refusing bail on the ground that the risk of Modi absconding remains significant.
Modi’s five-day extradition trial is due to begin on May 11 in the Westminster Magistrates Court. His key ground to oppose extradition is the claim that India’s request is politically motivated and part of an alleged conspiracy against him by some government departments.