London: The judgment in the extradition trial of fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi over the nearly USD 2 billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud and money laundering case will be handed down in the UK after December 1.
At a scheduled hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court in London on Thursday, District Judge Samuel Goozee agreed on the timetable for the second leg of Modi’s extradition trial scheduled between September 7 and 11.
The hearings next month will complete arguments on establishing a prima facie case against 49-year-old Modi and also deal with the additional extradition request, made by the Indian authorities and certified by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel earlier this year, which add on the charges of “causing the disappearance of evidence” and intimidating witnesses or criminal intimidation to cause death against him.
Additional hearings have also been scheduled for November 3, for the judge to rule on the admissibility of evidence presented before him, and December 1, when both sides will make their final submissions.
Therefore, any judgment in the case is now expected only after the final hearing in December.
During the course of Thursday’s hearing, Modi’s lawyers also raised concerns over allegations of party political bias against one of their expert witnesses from India.
Modi’s barrister Clare Montgomery told Justice Goozee that after Retired Justice Abhay Thipsay had given his witness statement on the concept of criminal breach of trust in Indian law during the first leg of the extradition trial in May, he came under attack and was accused of political bias.
We may have to put in an application for reporting restrictions around the reporting of his [Thipsay] evidence to avoid further public comment on it, said Montgomery, indicating that the retired Indian high court judge will be among the witnesses for the second leg of Modi’s trial scheduled to begin from September 7.
Asked by Goozee for the reason behind such an application, Modi’s barrister said the Indian ministry of justice held a press conference attacking” Thipsay for the evidence he had given in the UK court and accused him of party political bias.
During the hearing in May, Retd Justice Thipsay appeared via videolink from India as a legal expert to back Modi’s defence team’s efforts to try and highlight legal flaws in the government of India’s case.
“Unless a person is deceived there can be no cheating under Indian law,” he said at the time.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), arguing on behalf of the Indian authorities, had countered his witness statement and later in India, Thipsay, a former judge of the high court in Mumbai and Allahabad, had been accused of acting on the behest of the Congress party.
The retired judge had countered the allegations, saying he was not appearing in defence of Modi but as an expert witness to give his legal opinion, which the UK court may consider or disregard.
The hearing in London on Thursday was scheduled as a case management hearing to set the timetable for evidence to be presented to compete Modi’s extradition trial.
Modi, who has been lodged at Wandsworth Prison in south-west London since his arrest in March last year, will remain remanded into custody until the start of the trial on September 7 when he will appear via videolink.
The hearings next month will again be held in part remote settings, given the coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
His defence team also made a reference to his deteriorating mental health in Wandsworth, one of England’s most overcrowded prisons, as among a number of additional issues it is likely to raise.
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 CPS sought to establish 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.