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PNB fraud: Nirav Modi's extradition hearing on April 28; faces more CBI charges

PTI     April 16, 2020

A UK court on Wednesday extended the judicial remand of 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, for a hearing to take place on April 28.

It also emerged that Modi faces two additional charges of "causing the disappearance of evidence" and intimidating witnesses or criminal intimidation to cause death , brought by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and certified by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel in February.

The 49-year-old, who has been lodged at Wandsworth Prison in south-west London since his arrest last year, appeared via videolink from prison for his regular 28-day call-over hearing before Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London. The case is next listed for a case management on April 28, when he is to appear via videolink again, a court official said on Wednesday.

Modi's legal team and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), representing the Indian government in the extradition proceedings, held a lawyers-only case management hearing in the case earlier on Tuesday, ahead of a five-day trial scheduled between May 11 and 15.

The CPS said the two additional charges brought by the CBI have not been joined up to the main extradition case yet and are likely to be heard separately, unless the May trial itself is rescheduled and all charges clubbed together for a hearing later in the year.

"Nirav Modi is the subject of two sets of criminal proceedings, the first brought by the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation ('the CBI case') and the second brought by the Indian Enforcement Directorate ('the ED case')," a CPS spokesperson said.

The CBI case relates to a large-scale fraud upon an Indian bank [PNB], through the fraudulent obtaining of Letters of Understanding (LOUs or loan agreements), and the ED case relates to the laundering of the proceeds of that fraud.

The 11 May extradition hearing is going ahead and the new request (two additional offences part of the CBI case) has not been joined but will be dealt with at a separate later hearing, probably in July. Should the May hearing not proceed, then the two requests will be joined and heard in September, CPS said.

Most of the legal cases in the UK are switching to videolink and telephonic options where possible, with all new jury trials suspended amid the social distancing rules in place to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

The UK's Ministry of Justice has confirmed 207 prisoners in 57 jails have tested positive with 13 suspected COVID-19 related deaths. An extra 500 cells were being created following an announcement of the early release of up to 4,000 prisoners to ease overcrowding.

"We have robust and flexible plans in place to keep prisoners, staff and the wider public safe based on the latest advice from Public Health England," a spokesperson for the justice ministry said.

Modi, whose Wandsworth prison is considered one of the most over-crowded in England, had made a fifth attempt at bail in the High Court last month, which was rejected as the judge ruled that he continued to pose a flight risk.

Justice Ian Dove presided over the bail hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice on March 5, during which Modi appeared via videolink from Wandsworth Prison as his legal team offered a package of "stringent" bail measures, including bail security of 4 million pounds, house arrest at his central London luxury apartment with a 24-hour electronic tag as well as a private security guard service and a strictly monitored access to gadgets and telephones.

"My central concern of a risk of absconding are not obviated by the measures presented," Justice Dove had concluded.

Modi was arrested on March 19, 2019, on an extradition warrant executed by Scotland Yard on charges brought by the Indian government. During subsequent hearings, Westminster Magistrates' Court was told that Modi was the "principal beneficiary" of the fraudulent issuance of letters of undertaking (LoUs) as part of a conspiracy to defraud PNB and then laundering the proceeds of crime.

Also read: Taxing the untaxed IX: Is India blissfully ignorant to the menace of shell companies?

Also read: PNB scam: Nirav Modi remanded in custody until April 15

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