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UK extends custody of fugitive Nirav Modi, Swiss bank accounts frozen

Nirav Modi, who is wanted in India in the PNB loan fraud and money laundering case, has been lodged in a UK prison since his arrest this March.

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London/New Delhi: Fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi, wanted in India in connection with the nearly USD 2 billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud and money laundering case, was on Thursday further remanded to judicial custody until 25 July.

Judge Jonathan Radway presided over the short remand hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court via video link from Wandsworth prison and re-confirmed 29 July as the date for the next case management hearing in the 48-year-old diamond merchant’s extradition proceedings sought in the PNB fraud case.

The legal team for Modi, led by barrister Jessica Jones, brought to the judge’s attention an issue related to the nearly 5,000-page set of documentation submitted by the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on behalf of the Indian government.

They sought the court’s intervention in sanctioning easier access of the paperwork for Modi to be able to read through and give suitable instructions, including a request for the documents to be uploaded onto an internet-free laptop.

The judge, however, said the court can only ask for proper “access” but was unable to give further instructions. Under the UK law, Modi is expected to be produced before the court every four weeks, which now falls on 25 July.

The Indian side has until 11 July to present an opening position statement, laying out the prima facie case against Modi, with the next case management hearing set for 29 July when a timeline for extradition trial is expected to be laid out.

Modi, who has been lodged at Wandsworth prison in south-west London since his arrest in March in connection with the nearly USD 2 billion PNB fraud and money laundering case, appeared for the first time since his bail appeal was rejected by the UK High Court earlier this month, his fourth attempt at bail.

In her judgment handed down at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Justice Ingrid Simler concluded there were substantial grounds to believe that Modi would fail to surrender as he does possess the means to abscond.

Also read: Modi govt cites RTI clause to refuse details of Vijay Mallya & Nirav Modi extraditions

Reiterating similar concerns as those previously raised by Westminster Magistrates’ Court during earlier bail attempts, Judge Simler 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.

The applicant has access to considerable financial resources, supported by an increased (bail bond security) offer of 2 million pounds, the judge noted.

The High Court judge stressed that while it was not for her to take a “definitive view” on the evidence, she had proceeded on the basis that the government of India has acted in good faith in what is undoubtedly a serious case and a sophisticated international conspiracy to defraud, together with money laundering.

Modi, who has remained in judicial custody since his arrest in March, had the automatic right to file an application in the higher court and did not require permission to appeal.

Also read: ED Mumbai transfers officer probing Nirav Modi, Delhi office reinstates him within hours

Meanwhile, the first case management hearing in his extradition case took place at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 30 May, when Judge Emma Arbuthnot 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 issue was not raised during the remand hearing on Thursday. Modi was arrested by uniformed Scotland Yard officers on an extradition warrant on 19 March and has been in prison since.

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.

Four Swiss bank accounts frozen

Authorities in Switzerland froze four Swiss bank accounts of Modi and his sister as a part of the criminal money laundering probe being conducted against them in India, official sources said.

They said the accounts, at present, have deposits totalling Rs 283.16 crore and they have been frozen on the request of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) after it informed Switzerland authorities that the money kept in them are “proceeds of crime” of a bank fraud perpetrated by the duo.

The ED, they said, made the request to the Swiss authorities sometime back and sent an official request under the criminal provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

Also read: The 5 unknown Indian businessmen who top ED’s list of ‘36’ fugitives

Official sources said while the accounts of Modi have deposits of USD 3,74,11,596, the accounts in the name of his sister Purvi Modi have deposits of GBP 27,38,136.

This totals around Rs 283.16 crore, they said.

The central probe agency is expected to now make a move for the attachment of these bank accounts under the PMLA.

The ED along with the CBI is investigating Modi, his uncle Mehul Choksi and others for alleged money laundering and corruption to defraud the Brady House branch of the PNB in Mumbai to the tune of over Rs 13,000 crore.

The alleged scam was unearthed last year and Purvi Modi was also named as an accused by the ED in its charge sheet filed before a Mumbai court.

Also read: Subramanian Swamy wants you to believe Nirav Modi paid Congress Rs 98 cr, but he’s wrong


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