Billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi, who is at the centre of the over Rs 13,000 crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud, has been on the run since January. He has since been spotted in Dubai, Hong Kong, Belgium, New York and London. But is the noose finally beginning to tighten around him?
According to top officials, a visiting United Kingdom delegation has now confirmed that Modi is currently in their country. The admission comes on the heels of news reports that the diamantaire-turned-fugitive was trying to claim asylum in the UK from what he calls “political persecution”.
The Minister of State for Countering Extremism in UK’s Home Office, Baroness Williams, also assured Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju of Britain’s full cooperation in the Indian government’s efforts to expedite the extradition of Modi, liquor baron Vijay Mallya and several others.
“I had a very useful meeting with UK Minister Baroness Williams. We discussed about India-UK joint efforts to deal with terrorism and extremism. We also agreed to cooperate in the matters of extradition and sharing of information,” Rijiju told reporters after the hour-long meeting in the capital yesterday.
“We have put across the government of India’s demands that anybody who is wanted by Indian agencies or an Indian court, we seek the cooperation from the UK authorities (on extradition). The UK minister has assured to give full cooperation whether it is Vijay Mallya case or Nirav Modi or anybody,” he added.
“UK authorities have confirmed Nirav Modi’s presence in Britain,” an official privy to the meeting said. According to a statement issued by the Home Ministry, the MoS conveyed to Williams that Britain should not be viewed as a safe haven for men wanted by the law of the other country for various offences.
Furthermore, allaying concerns over prison conditions in India, Rijiju said there are absolute safeguards against human rights violations in Indian prisons, the statement added.
Letter Rogatories (LRs) in the cases lodged against Modi by the Enforcement Directorate, the CBI and the Income Tax Department were sent to the UK Central Authority (UKCA) on March 19, April 14 and April 15, respectively. For the record, LRs are requests from a court of one sovereign nation to a court of another sovereign nation for judicial assistance.
The UKCA has forwarded these LRs to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) for execution and conveyed that action would be taken on implementation of the ED LR.
The ED and the SFO have since entered discussions on the way forward.
India is also pushing for the extradition of Vijay Mallya, who is on trial at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London to rule if he can be extradited to India to face charges of and money laundering amounting to around Rs 9,000 crore.
Last month, at a case management conference hearing held at the request of his lawyers, the judge scheduled closing submission by the defence on June 21 and closing submission by India on July 26. The hearing for final arguments in the case has been deferred to July 31.
This is not the only legal battle that Mallya is currently fighting. There is also the fight to unfreeze his assets. On May 8, the Queen’s Bench Division of the commercial court in England’s High Court of Justice dismissed his plea to overturn a worldwide order freezing his assets and ruled that Indian banks were entitled to recover their funds from his assets in the UK.
This was a major victory for the consortium of 13 banks led by SBI that had filed the lawsuit. The last date for lodging an appeal against this decision by Mallya in the UK Court of Appeal was May 30. He appealed on May 29. So the lenders will have a wait longer to celebrate.