London: Fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi, fighting extradition to India on charges over the nearly USD 2 billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud and money laundering case, was remanded in further custody until July 9 by a UK court Thursday.
The 49-year-old jeweller, who has been lodged at Wandsworth Prison in south-west London since his arrest in March last year, appeared via videolink for the remand hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London.
He was remanded in further custody until July 9 as part of the regular 28-day “call-over” hearing.
“The next hearing will be a similar videolink call-over towards the next stage of your extradition proceedings scheduled for September 7,” District Judge Samuel Goozee told Modi, who spoke only to confirm his name and nationality.
Last month, Judge Goozee presided over the first part of the extradition trial, held in a partial remote setting due to the coronavirus lockdown restrictions, with the second part scheduled for a five-day hearing from September 7.
“I hope Mr Modi by the time we get to September, the current restrictions on movement from prisons have been eased and you can be in court in person to follow the proceedings,” the judge had told Modi, at the end of a four-day partial hearing of the case May 14.
Modi had been following the court proceedings from a room at Wandsworth Prison and could be seen taking notes during the course of the trial.
The first part of the case focused on establishing a prima facie case against him but the schedule had to be re-timetabled as the government of India submitted a further set of documents as “corroboratory evidence”. The judge allowed the additional evidence to be introduced but agreed that Modi’s defence team would require enough time to “digest” them.
Therefore, a hearing already planned to deal with a second extradition request, made by the Indian authorities and certified by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel earlier this year on two additional charges of “causing the disappearance of evidence” and intimidating witnesses or “criminal intimidation to cause death”, has been effectively extended to conclude the prima facie case arguments.
The judge has indicated that the two requests are “inextricably linked” and therefore he would be handing down an overall judgment at the conclusion of the second hearing, scheduled between September 7 and 11.
The charges against the diamond merchant centre around his firms Diamonds R Us, Solar Exports and Stellar Diamonds making fraudulent use of a credit facility offered by the Punjab National Bank (PNB), known as “letters of undertaking” (LoUs).
Modi’s team has sought to counter allegations of fraud by deposing witnesses to establish the volatility of the gems trade and that the LoUs were standard practice.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), arguing on behalf of the Indian government, have been laying out the case that a number of PNB staff conspired with Modi to ensure LoUs were issued to his companies without ensuring they were subject to the required credit check, without recording the issuance of the LoUs and without charging the required commission upon the transactions. This resulted in a fraud amounting to nearly USD 2 billion.