The prison conditions in India and Nirav Modi's fragile mental health were once again in focus during the diamond merchant's ongoing extradition hearing related to the Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam case at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London on Wednesday.
The third day of the five-day hearing, presided over by Justice Samuel Goozee, was devoted to the defence laying out further arguments against a prima facie case of fraud and money laundering against Modi, who observed the court proceedings via live videolink from Wandsworth Prison in London where he has been lodged since his arrest in March last year.
The 49-year-old jeweller seemed particularly inanimate through most part of the day, with the judge at one point pausing the hearing to check if the videolink had frozen and asked Modi to keep moving from time to time so the court can be sure he is still connected to the proceedings.
Modi's defence team, led by barrister Clare Montgomery, raised further issues around the conditions at Barrack 12 at Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai, where he is to be lodged on being extradited, claiming it is covered in its entirety in a blue metallic cover since it housed a terrorist in 2007. This makes the barrack incredibly hot , with other problems such as damp, dust, insects and rodents, she quoted testimony as saying.
Besides fears related to a COVID-19 outbreak earlier in the year, references were also made to a medical expert's addendum report which highlighted much more serious concerns around Modi's mental health.
UK-based prisons expert Dr Alan Mitchell, who has previously given witness statements in the extradition case of former Kingfisher Airlines boss Vijay Mallya, and the medical expert are among a set of defence witnesses scheduled to give live evidence in court over these issues later this week. They will be cross-examined by Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) barrister Helen Malcolm, who is arguing on behalf of the Indian government.
During Wednesday's hearing, Modi's defence team also claimed their client had been the subject of a trial by media and would not receive a fair trial in India.
After the judge had turned down a defence request earlier this week to allow retired Indian high court judge Abhay Thipsay to give his videolink expert statement privately, his written statement was briefly presented in court to highlight assertions against the admissibility of certain evidence presented by the government of India.
Thipsay's testimony questions whether the statements provided by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) meet the statutory requirements under Indian law and raises doubts over whether certain alleged actions, such as the destruction of mobile phones, amount to disappearance of evidence .
Modi is subject to two sets of criminal proceedings, the first brought by the CBI relating to a large-scale fraud said to have been committed upon PNB and the ED case, relating to the laundering of the proceeds of that fraud. A further extradition request was made in February this year of two additional offences of the disappearance of evidence and intimidating a witness.
The CPS must establish a prima facie case against Modi to allow the judge to rule that he has a case to answer before the Indian courts. If the judge finds in favour of the Indian government, the issue will go back to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel to formally certify his extradition to India to stand trial.
A ruling in the case is not expected before the end of this year or early next year, as a final submissions hearing has been tentatively scheduled for December 1.
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 PNB, known as letters of undertaking (LoUs), which resulted in a fraud amounting to nearly USD 2 billion.