The UK High Court has denied bail to fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi on Wednesday. This is the fourth bail plea by Modi that has been refused by UK courts. Modi remains in custody at Wandsworth prison in south-west London and is due to appear for his next remand hearing via videolink on June 27.
Judge Ingrid Simler at the Royal Court of Justice in London delivered this judgement on grounds that there are substantial reasons to believe that Modi will fail to surrender if granted bail. She also ruled that after considering all the material "carefully", she had found strong evidence to suggest there had been interference with witnesses and destruction of evidence in the case and concluded it can still occur.
"It is difficult, in my judgement, to see how the UK is safe haven as there is no case of him being tried here. There are still places in world one can escape to which are an even safer haven from Indian investigating authorities," she said, countering Modi's lawyers' assertion that he did not have any incentive to flee the UK as he sees it as a safe haven of justice.
Listening to his bail plea on Tuesday, Justice Simler had ruled that the matter was of "some importance" and she would take some time to consider it. She had reserved her judgement for Wednesday.
The judge concluded that it is "difficult to predict" how Modi would react to developments in the extradition process, raising a strong incentive of failure to surrender before the courts to avoid returning to India. She also accepted the Westminster Magistrates' Court concerns that the diamond merchant had been based in the UK for only a short period of time and had no significant ties to the country.
On Tuesday, Modi's legal team tried to persuade Judge Simler to overturn the Westminster Magistrates' Court decision to deny him bail in three previous attempts. The lower court had similar misgivings as the UK High Court regarding Modi's intentions to surrender if he is allowed to go free.
During the hearing on Tuesday, Modi's legal team reiterated many of its assertions from previous three bail pleas before Westminster Magistrates' Court to claim that the diamond merchant did not pose a "substantial" flight risk, as claimed by the Indian government. His barrister Clare Montgomery once again offered to put Modi under house arrest and electronic monitoring at his lavish Centrepoint apartment in central London.
"The reality is that he is not the cold-blooded hardened criminal as claimed by the government of India but a jewellery designer from a long line of diamond dealers, and regarded as being honest, careful and reliable," Montgomery said.
However, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), arguing the case for the Indian government, argued that Modi had enough reasons and resources to flee to a country which does not have an extradition treaty with India.
The government of India has strong, friendly bilateral relations with the UK, including an extradition treaty, and this case involves widespread allegations which have been submitted in good faith by Indian authorities, said CPS barrister Nicholas Hearn, who argued that the threat of Modi interfering with witnesses and destruction of evidence continued to loom as part of the ongoing investigations.
He also reiterated that while Modi's legal team has attempted to characterise the case as a commercial matter, the Indian investigations carried out at high levels by two agencies the CBI and ED prove that it is a serious criminal case.
Modi has been in judicial custody since his arrest in March earlier this year. This three bail pleas were turned down by the Westminster Magistrates' Court. He had the automatic right to file an application in the higher court and did not require permission to appeal.
The first case management hearing in the extradition case took place at Westminster Magistrates' Court on May 30. Back then, Judge Emma Arbuthnot had directed the Indian government to confirm which prison Modi is to be held in if he were to be extradited to India, setting a 14-day deadline for a confirmation of the prison plans in India.
The CPS, representing the Indian government, has until July 11 to present an opening position statement laying out the prima facie case against Modi, with the next case management hearing set for July 29 when a timeline for extradition trial is expected to be laid out.
(Edited by Vivek Punj with PTI inputs)