Seeking to overturn the decision of Westminster magistrates’ court, Clare Montgomery QC, representing Nirav, presented Justice Simler DBE with a doctor’s letter about Nirav Modi’s medical condition in prison and sureties from Nirav’s former geography teacher as well as his personal assistant, Frances Hallworth-Noble, who was in court, that he would not flee justice.
Noble, who runs the London Concierge Company, had put up a sum of money of “personal significance”, the court heard, guaranteeing Nirav “would not run.”
The high court also heard that Nirav’s cellmate in Wandsworth prison had threatened to pour water over him.
Montgomery proposed 16 hours per day of electronic tagging if he was granted bail. “There is no place he can go as he has no passport,” she said, adding a number of people had provided character references expressing a high opinion of him.
“He gets greater protection in the UK than he would anywhere else. There is no extradition-free zone in today’s world that is safe. He has had an opportunity to flee and has not. He has chosen the UK as a safe haven where he believes his rights will be protected. This is not Julian Assange. He is not going to find refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy,” she said.
She admitted Nirav “had made applications to the EU and Vanuatu” for residency but said Vanuatu anyway had an extradition treaty with India.
Nirav is contesting extradition to India to face charges of defrauding Punjab National Bank of up to $2 billion (Rs 17,000 crore) and of laundering money.
Montgomery said the Extradition Act of 2003 states the presumption is in favour of bail in extradition cases and the Indian government has to provide “substantial grounds” for concluding Nirav would interfere with witnesses or obstruct justice in the future, or fail to surrender.
“You are not considering what he may have done in the past,” she said.
Montgomery added Nirav had offered to settle with PNB in January 2018 but his offers were rejected.
The court heard conflicting accounts about why 12 staff from Nirav’s Dubai offices had been sent to Cairo after Nirav’s companies collapsed. The Indian government’s case is that Nirav forced them to go there to avoid becoming prosecution witnesses and Nirav even threatened to kill one of them, but Montgomery argued they went there of their own volition as they were scared of being arrested. “The threat to kill is fiercely contested. Everyone who the ED says is under pressure is either in India or is cooperating with the ED,” she said.
Nicholas Hearn, representing India, argued Nirav faced serious criminal charges in India of sophisticated fraud and conspiracy against the Indian state and his crimes had been committed “in connivance with PNB officials”.
“He has a strong disincentive to surrender in the course of the proceedings. He has the resources and determination not to face these allegations in an Indian court,” he said, adding Nirav may influence witnesses in the run-up to his extradition trial.