Nirav Modi, main accused in the $2 billion Punjab National Bank fraud case, “threatened to kill” a witness, and destroyed evidence, the prosecution in his extradition hearing alleged at the second bail application in Westminster Magistrates Court on Friday.
However, the defence insisted that there was no flight risk and that Modi had treated the United Kingdom as a “haven” where his case would be “fairly considered.”
The allegations were one of several arguments presented to the court by barrister Toby Cadman, acting on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service (who are representing India). He told the court there was a “substantial risk” that Modi would “flee, interfere with witnesses, interfere with evidence in order,” to prevent the case against him proceeding.
Mr. Cadman said that while Modi had been in talks to hand himself in voluntarily, he had “not cooperated with the authorities in any way.” “Due to the nature and seriousness of these charges, the value and resources available to him, there would be an overwhelming desire to flee the jurisdiction…and he has shown a willingness to interfere in the administration of justice to influence witnesses and destroy evidence,” the court heard.
The extraordinary allegations were levelled during the hearing, at which Mr. Cadman alleged that Ashish Lad, a director of Unity Trading FZE, who had given a witness statement to the Indian authorities and said that he received a phone call from Modi, threatening to kill him if he gives a statement. Mr. Lad was also offered ₹2 million to provide a false statement. The prosecution also alleged that mobile phones and a server “critical to the case” had been destroyed at Modi’s behest. If he were released, there was a risk further that evidence could be destroyed, he warned.
Resources at Modi’s disposal
Mr. Cadman also pointed to the resources at Modi’s disposal, which were demonstrated by factors such as his application for an investment programme as a route to citizenship in the Pacific island of Vanuatu (which was declined by the authorities there). “Due to nature of business he had at his disposal diamonds, gold and pearls,” the court heard.
Clare Montgomery – the barrister who represented Vijay Mallya – insisted that Modi had the same right to bail as someone in a domestic case, even given the magnitude of the amounts involved, as was the case in many high-value fraud cases.
“The type of person who is generally caught up in that sort of allegation does not have a long history of criminal conduct…they do not have underworld connections — they are generally law abiding and that is true for Mr. Modi as it is for many other people,” she told the court. “The reality is that the size and nature of these allegations is not a safe touchstone by which you can judge if he is liable to flee….” He had even less of an ability than a UK national to flee the UK, she said, and been less desire to do so. “He has remained in the UK since before the allegations were made in India and has not sought to travel since he arrived here,” she told the court.
“He has treated the U.K. as a haven where his case will be fairly considered,” she said. By contrast his case had acquired a “notoriety” in India and led to allegations that were ‘not justified’. He had been in the U.K. for “legitimate business purposes” when the problems in India emerged “quite unexpectedly.”
The second bail application of Modi is taking place at at Westminster Magistrate’s Court before Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot, who also presided in Mallya’s extradition proceedings. At the start of proceedings, judge Arbuthnot concurred with Ms. Montgomery’s criticism of the state of the index for the prosecution’s paperwork in the case, which Ms. Montgomery told the court had made her want to cry. She agreed to the defence’s suggestion that the Crown Prosecution Service could “clean up these documents.”
CBI, ED team present
Also in attendance at the hearing were three members of the joint CBI and Enforcement Directorate team — at least one of whom had experience working on the Mallya case.
Sources have confirmed that Modi is in the U.K. on an investor visa that he obtained before the fraud allegations surfaced and it was issued in 2015. The visa allows those who invest at least £2 million in U.K. government, shares or businesses, to obtain it a faster route to settlement in the U.K. Eighty-two Indian nationals applied for an investor visa through this route between 2008 and March 2018, according to Transparency International.
The visa has been the subject of much criticism from anti-corruption groups in the U.K., over the checks in place to ensure the route wasn’t subject to abuse.