In what looks like a major boost for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, fugitive billionaire Nirav Modi was, on Tuesday, arrested in London by the Metropolitan Police days after a UK court issued an arrest warrant against him in response to a request by India’s Enforcement Directorate for his extradition.
However, the controversial diamantaire who allegedly duped the Punjab National Bank of over Rs 13000 crore before fleeing India last year, may not be brought back to the country any time soon.
Modi’s lawyers applied for bail in the Westminster Magistrate’s Court where he was produced by the Metropolitan Police on Wednesday morning. In his bail prayer, the fugitive jeweller said that he is willing to cooperate with the probe against him and be present for questioning whenever required. However, he was denied bail and remanded in custody till March 29, when the case against him will come up for the hearing next.
Sources say the judicial process against Modi may be as long drawn as former UB group chief Vijay Mallya, whose extradition to India was recently approved by the UK authorities after nearly two years of long drawn legal proceedings but is still pending a final nod from Britain’s Home Office.
Sources in the Enforcement Directorate, which had sought the extradition warrant against Modi, say that the requirement to present Modi before the London court was a technical one.
On March 29, if Modi is granted bail, the London court will set a date for arguments to commence in the extradition case against him. The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service will pursue the extradition case on behalf of the Indian investigation agencies. Sources said that the documentation of the case against Modi, with details of his alleged money laundering and other economic offences, run into several thousands of pages. Counsel for the prosecution and the respondent (Modi) will have to argue based on this documentation before the court.
“Even in the event of the court expediting the case, which in itself is unlikely as the London court will not be influenced by the political rhetoric in India over Nirav Modi, a final order on his extradition may take months, if not a year,” an ED source said. He added that once the Magistrate’s Court rules in the case, an appeal will be made in a higher court by either parties depending on the order, and this too will take months to reach finality.
It is pertinent to note that even the case against Mallya, who had fled India back in 2017 and has been roaming free in London after being granted bail by the court, has still not reached closure even though the Indian government can claim some success on the fact that his extradition was ordered by the UK Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, last month. The file on Mallya’s extradition is still under process in the UK.
The arrest of Nirav Modi will, nonetheless, make for excellent optics in poll-bound India where Narendra Modi and his entire cabinet and BJP leadership are expected to assert their ‘chowkidar’ (watchman) identities even more aggressively now.
It is to be noted though that Nirav Modi’s presence in London was not exposed by the Indian agencies or the Modi government but by a journalist from UK’s The Telegraph. It was a news report by the journalist from The Telegraph that made the Indian agencies aware of Nirav Modi’s presence in London and the fact that after escaping Indian authorities while fleeing the country, Nirav Modi had gone on to start a diamond business in Soho after acquiring necessary British permits over the past year.