Is Indian lack of interest hobbling the bid to extradite economic offences fugitive Nirav Modi, wanted in India for allegedly defrauding banks to the tune of Rs 13,000 crore? Indian officials apparently failed to respond in time to UK Serious Frauds Office's (SFO) request for documents for the arrest and extradition of Nirav Modi, who is wanted for alleged role in the Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam, a news report says.
After media widely reported spotting Nirav Modi recently on the London street the government denied any laxity on New Delhi's part in getting him extradited, the report carried by a broadcaster says. But material available with NDTV indicated the repeated attempts of Indian officials to ignore the efforts of the UK Serious Fraud Office in London to get more documents to complete the extradition proceedings.
India first sent an alert to the UK under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) in February 2018 after news broke of the diamond trader fleeing India. This was soon after the CBI registered the criminal case against Nirav Modi and his family members for cheating the taxpayer of Rs 13,000 crores in the PNB scam.
The MLAT allowed the Indian Home Ministry officials to directly forward court summons or warrants to the Indian High Commission in London, which could then take it up with the central authority in the UK. The central authority decided that the SFO was the appropriate agency to handle the request for action against Nirav Modi, the report said.
The SFO confirmed Nirav Modi's presence in the UK to India in March last year itself even as Indian officials were trying to trace him in Europe or Hong Kong. They confirmed Nirav Modi's presence in the UK only months later, according to the report. The SFO also assigned counsel Barry Stancombe, who specialises in fraud and money laundering, to assist India in the extradition case.
Stancombe realized the need for many more documents to successfully prosecute an extradition proceeding in a UK court and wrote three letters in the summer to the Indian officials but failed to get any response, according to the report. Stancombe and his team also communicated their willingness to visit India to collect evidence so that they could arrest Nirav Modi in the UK and start the proceedings. They failed to get any response, according to NDTV.
While External Affairs Ministry officials on Saturday confirmed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) having sent extradition requests by August last year, they denied knowledge of any request for additional documents from the UK. A lack of interest on the Indian side apparently forced the SFO to stop pursuing the case. "We can neither confirm nor deny any SFO interest in the case," NDTV said quoting an e-mail it received from the SFO.
Meanwhile, Nirav Modi's legal teams are ready to fight his prosecution in the UK and extradition to India, according to sources.
The flight over several high-profile fugitives including Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi and Vijay Mallya has been high on the campaign agenda of the opposition Congress party president Rahul Gandhi's United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in the upcoming general election 2019. The elections taking place through April and May with the result scheduled on May 23 are extremely important for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government and his Bharatiya Janata Party that leads the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that had the high profile corruption cases that arose during the second term of the Manmohan Singh government as a major campaign point.