Nirav Modi: Suicide, Mumbai jail Covid risks in extradition appeal focus
Nirav Modi (File photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint via Getty Images)
FUGITIVE Indian businessman Nirav Modi could face a “substantial risk” of suicide amid an “overwhelming” impact of Covid-19 at Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai where he will be put on being exiled, the High Court of London was told in an extradition appeal hearing on Wednesday (21).
The 50-year-old disgraced diamond tycoon, who is accused of defrauding India’s Punjab National Bank of $2 billion over seven years, applied to the UK court to appeal his extradition on the basis that he wouldn’t receive a fair trial in India.
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Modi’s case is the most high-profile since Vijay Mallya and if India succeeds in getting him back and face the charges, it will be seen as a victory of prime minister Narendra Modi who has always positioned himself as a leader who has zero tolerance for corruption. At a time when the prime minister’s popularity has been hit by his government’s handling of the pandemic, this will be seen as a major boost.
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Modi saw the remotely held court proceedings on Wednesday from his Wandsworth Prison in south-west London. His lawyers argued for permission to appeal against his extradition ordered by district judge Sam Goozee in February and certified by British home secretary Priti Patel in April.
During the “renewal application” hearing before high court judge Martin Chamberlain, Modi’s lawyers tried to establish grounds for a full high court appeal hearing by claiming it would be oppressive to extradite him to India due to his mental condition that could lead to suicidal impulses.
Edward Fitzgerald argued that Judge Goozee made a “succession of errors” in his ruling in favour of Modi’s extradition in February, when he concluded that not only was Modi’s severe depression not unusual given his incarceration, but that he did not exhibit an immediate impulse to commit suicide.
“The District Judge was wrong to hold that there was nothing unusual about the Appellant’s (Nirav Modi) mental condition; and wrong to focus on his present fitness to plead,” Fitzgerald said.
“As to the District Judge’s conclusion that ‘the Applicant’s condition will improve on his return’ and ‘there will be an amelioration of his current conditions of detention’, that finding was perverse on the evidence before him and unsustainable in the light of the new evidence. It was based on his assessment that the conditions in the prison at Arthur Road, Mumbai will be better than they are at HMP Wandsworth,” he said.
Modi’s lawyers relied on expert evidence from forensic psychiatrist Dr Andrew Forrester which was presented previously at the Westminster Magistrate’s Court in London.
“In my opinion, Nirav Modi should now be considered at substantial (meaning high), albeit not immediate, risk of suicide,” Forrester’s assessment read in his report dated August 27, 2020.
The lawyers also submitted fresh evidence to claim the pandemic is “overwhelming to the effect that the new outbreak of Covid renders the healthcare system on the brink of collapse”.
In relation to Patel’s extradition order, it was argued that she should not rely on Indian government assurances. “She [Priti Patel] failed totally to address the evidence of other breaches of commitments made to both the UK and to third states,” Fitzgerald said.
The renewal hearing is expected to conclude on Wednesday after the Crown Prosecution Service on behalf of the Indian authorities and the home secretary’s counsel make their counter-arguments against permission to appeal, with a judgment likely to come at a later date on whether the case can proceed to a full appeal hearing in the London high court.