The Indian government won this first round against Nirav Modi.
As two detained persons at the heart of extradition proceedings go, Nirav Modi does not quite following in the footsteps of Julian Assange. But his legal team made strenuous efforts to get his case to go the Assange way.
That his legal team failed to block an extradition order, unlike the Assange team, underlines just how comprehensively the Indian government won this first round against Nirav Modi. It had to. As the extradition law in Britain goes, heavily loaded in favour of the person whose extradition is sought, the requesting state must win on all counts, the requested person looking to block extradition has to win on just one.
In the case of Assange, the magistrate accepted there was a reasonable prima facie to extradite Assange to the US for him to face trial there. But Assange’s team won over their arguments that he is in depression and suicide-prone and that detention conditions in the US may fail to stop him from attempting suicide.
The attempt to do a legal Assange for Nirav Modi didn’t work. Magistrate Samuel Goozee remarked for a start that a degree of depression in jail is “not unusual”. He made in effect the rather common-sense observation that a prison can be expected to be a little less cheerful than the world outside.
But the magistrate held out prospects of some cheer—relative at least—in observing that the detention conditions at Barrack 12 in Arthur Road jail in Mumbai looked far better than his jail cell in Wandsworth prison in London. And he suggested that the move may rid him of some depression. The suggestion appeared not to have brought much cheer to Nirav Modi attending the hearing through videolink from jail.
Nor could any other ruling from the magistrate have brought much cheer to the now much bearded Nirav Modi who heard the order read out in stony looking silence. The court accepted the Indian government argument, and rejected Nirav Modi’s, on every single count.
The court upheld that there was a prima facie case of fraud made out against Nirav Modi in the case brought by the CBI. The court accepted prima facie evidence of money laundering in the related case brought by the Enforcement Directorate. The magistrate ruled there was sufficient evidence to show that he threatened witnesses, and tampered with evidence.
That part of the ruling was entirely along expected lines and had made the outcome of the case predictable. Nirav Modi sought bail seven times—five times at the Westminster magistrate’s court and twice in the high court on appeal—but it was refused every time because every judge found merit in the Indian case that Nirav Modi together with his brother threatened witnesses and attempted to destroy evidence. Once the courts accepted that he was tampering with evidence, it followed that he had done something criminal he then tried to hide.
As the first next step, the order by Magistrate Samuel Goozee will be sent to Home Secretary Priti Patel. She will order extradition, as she must—she has no discretion over the decision. The Home Secretary only rubber-stamps the court’s order.
Once that order has been made Nirav Modi’s team can launch an appeal to the High Court. The High Court would have first to admit an appeal, and if so then consider whether to allow written submissions or oral submissions as well. The time frame for an appeals court order is likely to be months, not years.
If the High Court upholds the Westminster court’s order for extradition, that then ends the legal process over extradition. Any appeal to the high court for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court is certain to be rejected, as it was in Mallya’s case. The Supreme Court in Britain is not an appellate court; it considers only issues of law that are of wide public interest.
An appeal could still be made to the European Court of Human Rights if Nirav Modi were to lose his appeal in the High Court. That would be a move to buy time, and perhaps not a lot of time. Barring any freak side-stepping to the judicial process ahead, both Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya should be on flights to India this year, in the company of some officers from the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate.
That winning an extradition case is not the same as winning extradition has become painfully obvious to the Indian government over Vijay Mallya. After losing the extradition case he sought asylum. Britain has an extradition law and an asylum law, Mallya leapfrogged from one to seek shelter under the other before anyone knew it. Mallya is unlikely to get asylum, but the move has bought him time.
Going by present indications, that escape route will be denied to Nirav Modi. But Nirav Modi is being propelled by his legal team towards yet another loophole—of escaping extradition on medical grounds. An ace of sorts visible already also on Mallya’s sleeves. But that is the shape of the last roadblock ahead in the cases both of Mallya and Nirav Modi before these two gentlemen can move residence to Barrack 12, Arthur Road jail, Mumbai.
—London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around.
Read his columns here
(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)