Fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi, wanted in India in connection with the nearly $2 billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud and money laundering case, was on Thursday further remanded to judicial custody by a UK court until 22 August.
Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot presided over the routine four-week remand appearance via videolink at Westminster Magistrates' Court during which she indicated that a five-day extradition trial will take place in May 2020 after dates are mutually agreed between all sides, said a PTI report.
"You would like it to be sooner rather than later, I presume. We will have a date for you by 22 August, so you know what you are working towards," Judge Arbuthnot told Modi, who was dressed in a grey T-shirt and appeared quite cheerful.
Fugitive billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi's custody extended till August 22 by London's Westminster Court (file pic) pic.twitter.com/7RO9IxX1kg
" ANI (@ANI) July 25, 2019
In light of the UK's current heat wave, the judge said, in a good humoured way, that she hoped it wasn't too hot for him in Wandsworth.
"Fine, thank you mam," responded Modi, amid laughter.
Modi was represented in court by barrister Jessica Jones, who ran through some of the "directions" agreed between the diamond merchant's defence team and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) - arguing on behalf of the Indian government.
As per the timelines discussed during the brief hearing, the judge said she expected to receive all the evidence and skeleton argument bundles in the case by 8 April, with a five-day hearing then expected to be slotted in May next year.
There are likely to be a number of case management hearings ahead of that but meanwhile, a planned case management hearing for next Monday was vacated as not required.
"The Indian government has made arrangements to attend Monday's hearing so we would like it to go ahead," said CPS barrister Hannah Burton, but the judge overruled that saying it would not be necessary in light of the pre-agreed directions and the court has a "lot going on".
Under UK law, Modi is expected to be produced before the court every four weeks, which now falls on 22 August.
Modi has had his bail rejected multiple times, the fourth time being by the UK High Court last month.
In her judgment handed down at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Justice Ingrid Simler had concluded there were "substantial grounds" to believe that Modi would fail to surrender as he does possess the means to "abscond".
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, 48, has been lodged at Wandsworth prison in south-west London since his arrest in March in connection with the nearly $2 billion PNB fraud and money laundering case.
On 27 June, Modi was remanded to judicial custody until 25 July.
Judge Jonathan Radway had presided over the short remand hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court via videolink from Wandsworth prison and re-confirmed 29 July as the date for the next case management hearing in the diamond merchant's extradition proceedings sought in the PNB fraud case.
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.
On 8 July, the Pune bench of the DRT directed the fugitive diamond merchant and his aides to pay over Rs 7,200 crore with interest to the PNB and others.
Presiding Officer Deepak Thakkar, who holds additional charge of the Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT), Mumbai, passed two orders in two cases in favour of the PNB. The PNB had approached the DRT last year seeking recovery of over Rs 7,029 crore.
Early this month, the Singapore High Court had ordered the freezing of bank deposits worth Rs 44.41 crore kept in that country by Modi's two relatives as part of a money-laundering probe in India.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) said the bank account is in the name of Pavillion Point Corporation based in the British Virgin Island, a company "beneficially owned" by Purvi Modi and Maiank Mehta.
The two are the sister and brother-in-law of Modi, who is currently under arrest in this alleged bank fraud case in London. The high court had ordered freezing the balance of $6.122 million (Rs 44.41 crore) on the request of the ED on the ground that deposits in the bank account were made from "proceeds of crime" illegally siphoned off by Modi from the PNB, it said.
Modi was arrested by uniformed Scotland Yard officers on an extradition warrant on 19 March this year and has been in prison since.
" With PTI inputs