Indian celebrity jeweller Nirav Modi allowed to appeal UK extradition ruling over $2.4b fraud

Modi is also accused of witness intimidation and destroying evidence.
Modi is also accused of witness intimidation and destroying evidence.PHOTO: NIRAV MODI/FACEBOOK

LONDON (AFP) - Fugitive Indian jeweller Nirav Modi can appeal against his extradition to his homeland, where he is accused of defrauding one of the country's largest banks of US$1.8 billion (S$2.44 billion), the High Court in London ruled on Monday (Aug 9).

Judge Martin Chamberlain said Modi would be allowed to appeal against the initial court decision on mental health grounds and his right not to face inhuman treatment.

Modi, dubbed a jeweller to the stars thanks to celebrity customers in Hollywood and India's Hindi-language movie industry Bollywood, lost his legal bid to avoid extradition from the UK in February.

He fled India in February 2018 after being accused of having played a central role in defrauding Punjab National Bank, one of India's largest state-backed lenders, of US$1.8 billion.

Modi is also accused of witness intimidation and destroying evidence.

Lower court judge Sam Goozee ruled in February that there was enough evidence to suggest there was a criminal case against Modi in India, and handed the final decision to the government.

Interior Minister Priti Patel approved the request in April.

Judge Chamberlain said on Monday that "the question for me is simply whether the appellant's case on these grounds is reasonably arguable. In my judgment, it is".

"I will not restrict the basis on which those grounds can be argued, though it seems to me that there should be a particular focus on whether the judge was wrong to reach the conclusion he did, given the evidence as to the severity of the appellant's depression, the high risk of suicide and the adequacy of any measures capable of preventing successful suicide attempts."

Judge Goozee had dismissed submissions from Modi's legal team that he would not be treated fairly in India, and said there was not enough evidence from doctors to believe he was a suicide risk.

Modi has 14 days to begin the appeal.

Before the alleged fraud, which rocked corporate India, Forbes magazine estimated his wealth at US$1.73 billion, placing him 85th on India's rich list.

He was arrested in London in March 2019, and has been held in prison on remand while his case has been litigated.

An attempt by the US government to extradite the WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange from the UK to face espionage charges failed in January, after a judge ruled he was at serious risk of suicide if he were transferred.

Washington has challenged the decision and a preliminary hearing to determine the exact grounds for the appeal takes place at the High Court on Wednesday.