London: Fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi had reportedly threatened to kill himself if he was extradited to India, according to reports.
The 48-year-old businessman, who was arrested from Holborn here on March 19 and is fighting extradition proceedings since then, was suffering from depression and was attacked by fellow inmates in his cell at the Wandsworth prison in south-west London.
The revelations came as Modi, who is fighting extradition to India on charges of nearly $2 billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud and money laundering case, was produced before Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot at Westminster Magistrates’ Court for his fourth attempt for bail.
However, the court yet again rejected the bail plea despite an offer of an “unprecedented bail package”, which included 4-million pounds in security as well as house arrest akin to those imposed on terrorist suspects.
James Lewis, appearing for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on behalf of the Indian government, challenged the fresh bail application on the grounds that there had been no material change in circumstances from the previous three occasions and stressed that Modi continued to possess the means and intention to flee the UK.
“He has said he will kill himself if his extradition is ordered, that in itself is the strongest motivation for someone to abscond,” Lewis said.
Modi’s barrister, Hugo Keith, argued a change in circumstances in the doubling of the security offered to the court, from the previous 2 million pounds to 4 million pounds and also a privately-paid guard service to ensure constant monitoring alongside electronic tagging.
Besides his client’s mental state in Wandsworth prison, he informed the court of an extortion attack earlier on Wednesday when two inmates entered his cell and kicked him to the floor and punched him in the face.
“It is obvious that it was a targeted attack following renewed media coverage recently in which Modi is wrongly referred to as a billionaire diamantaire,” said Keith, accusing the Indian government of having “thoroughly blackened” Modi’s name as a “world-class schemer”.
He argued at length about the diamond merchant’s difficulties in preparing for his case from inside prison, where he is locked up isolated and vulnerable in a cell 22 hours a day. The judge did offer to intervene with a direction to the prison authorities to allow him access to a computer in order for him to effectively prepare his defence in the case.
“The past is a prediction of what might happen in the future,” said Judge Arbuthnot, as she concluded that she remains unconvinced that he would not interfere with witnesses or fail to surrender before the court for his trial in May 2020. She also noted that the confirmation that Modi is suffering from depression is not such that would influence her to change her previous ruling to deny bail.
She, however, was extremely critical of “appalling” leaks to the Indian media last month associated with Modi’s latest bail application, which referred to his mental health condition from a confidential medical report.
Modi’s defence team blamed the leak on the Indian investigative agencies and produced a bundle of press reports dated October 30 for the judge to accuse the Indian authorities of bad faith and egregious behaviour.
“It is very unfortunate indeed that the doctor’s report was leaked. It should not happen and would undermine the court’s trust in the government of India, if indeed that emerges to be the source of the leak,” the Judge said.
Modi has been behind bars at Wandsworth prison since his arrest on March 19 on an extradition warrant executed by Scotland Yard on charges brought by the Indian government.
During subsequent hearings, Westminster Magistrates’ Court was told that Modi was the “principal beneficiary” of the fraudulent issuance of letters of undertaking (LoUs) as part of a conspiracy to defraud PNB and then laundering the proceeds of crime.
His extradition trial is scheduled between May 11 and 15, 2020, and he must be produced via videolink before a court every 28 days until the case management hearings in the case kick in from early next year.
Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi of the Geetanjali Group are being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation after the PNB alleged that they cheated it of Rs 13,500 crore with the involvement of some bank employees.
Modi also faces charges under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act. The ED has filed a chargesheet against Choksi in a Prevention of Money Laundering Act Court in Mumbai.
(With PTI inputs)