Fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi
Fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi

Judge rejects Nirav Modi's plea for press ban at extradition trial in London

By Poonam Joshi | Updated: Sep 08, 2020 05:09 IST

London [UK], September 8 (ANI): The extradition trial of the fugitive diamond dealer Nirav Modi resumed at Westminster Magistrate's Court in Central London on Monday, as the disgraced former celebrity jeweller fights being sent to India from the UK to face charges of defrauding Punjab National Bank of an estimated USD 2 billion as well as chargers of money laundering.
Due to ongoing social distancing measures put in place due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Modi, 49, appeared via video link from Wandsworth Prison in South London where he has been held since his arrest in March 2019. Wearing his now-familiar white shirt and black suit, sporting a bushy beard, Modi appeared to have put on some weight as he listened in on proceedings.
The proceedings thus far - the first part of the trial concluded in May 2020 - have not been short of courtroom drama thus far. On the last day of the previous hearing, the court heard several audio recordings made by several former employees of Modi's various companies who alleged that Modi and his associates had threatened them and their families in India if they testified against him.
Today's hearing didn't fail to deliver on the drama.
Modi's defence team - led by the formidable Clare Montgomery QC, who had previously represented liquor baron Vijay Mallya in his extradition battle - submitted an appeal to the court to bar the press from reporting on upcoming depositions of defence witnesses or delay such reporting.
She told judge Samuel Goozee that one of the star defence witnesses - the retired Indian high court judge Abhay Thipsay - had faced harassment after describing the Indian government's case against Modi as "weak" and one which would not hold up in a court of law.
Following his evidence, Judge Thipsay was publicly criticised in an extraordinary attack by the Indian Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad who suggested that the judge was working with cahoots with the opposition Congress Party to "bail out Nirav".
Montgomery claimed that Judge Thipsay had appeared on behalf of the defence as a member of the public and not as someone affiliated to any political party. She insisted that he was not a politician and further "political attacks" and appealed to judge Goozee to hold his further testimony in secret.
Judge Goozee however, rejected the appeal stating that Judge Thipsay himself had not refused to testify further. He claimed that the "administration of justice" in the case would not be hindered by allowing further reporting of the trial.
Before issuing his ruling, Judge Goozee also requested members of the press present, including ANI's correspondent, to weigh in on the matter. The press corps unanimously rejected Modi's defence team's plea and stated that they were the eyes and ears of the case, particularly for people in India, and were merely doing their job of reporting facts.
They stated that it would be unfair to be disallowed from reporting on the proceedings.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) also showed the court fresh video of the Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai where the Indian government hopes to hold Modi during the trial, including a tour of the facilities and revelations about the precautions put in place to battle Covid-19.
One of the contentions of Modi in his defence - as it was with Vijay Mallya - is that the conditions at Arthur Road Jail are poor to the extent that it would infringe on his fundamental rights.
CPS Barrister Helen Malcolm told the court that the video and the conditions portrayed at Barrack 12 of the jail prove that the UK would not breach its obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights if the Home Secretary made the decision to send Modi to India.
Modi's defence team are expected to produce counter-arguments to that contention later in the week.
Montgomery also responded to allegations that Modi and his associates had intimidated witnesses in Cairo, Egypt.
During the hearings in May, the court heard how a number of former employees of Modi had been moved to Cairo from their bases in Dubai and Hong Kong as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) closed in on Modi's activities. The employees have alleged they were intimidated, their phones destroyed and their families threatened if they testified against Modi.
However, Montgomery argued that these individuals were moved to Cairo because they were receiving legal support. She also argued that "whatever has happened has happened outside of India and therefore it is purely extra-territorial" and fell outside the jurisdiction of the Indian authorities. She stated that whatever occurred in Cairo did not amount to a conspiracy.
The second extradition request made on Modi to the UK by the Indian government accuses him of intimidating witnesses, causing the disappearance of evidence and interference in criminal investigations. The courts in England have deemed him a flight risk and refused 5 separate bail applications despite Modi pledging million in security.
The first request - brought by the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) - relates to PNB fraud and money laundering charges respectively.
The trial will continue until September 11 and a ruling in the case is expected towards the end of this year following another hearing on December 1. (ANI)