London/New Delhi, The Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Friday rejected the bail plea of fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi suspecting he could “flee” Britain and “interfere with witnesses”, said sources.
Judge Emma Arbuthnot has granted the Metropolitan Police custody of the 48-year-old businessman till the next hearing on April 26.
Arbuthnot is the same judge who ordered the extradition of former Kingfisher Airlines boss Vijay Mallya last December.
The court order came after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), appearing on behalf of the Indian authorities, argued against Nirav Modi’s bail. “There is a real risk that he could flee, interfere with witnesses, interfere with evidence,” the prosecution said.
Defence barrister Clare Montgomery said, “I (Nirav Modi) have been in the UK even before the case was registered in India. How can my bail be opposed saying I might flee the UK?”
Montgomery, who had earlier represented Vijay Mallya, countered to say that his client is not a “flight risk” as he has rented a flat in London in his own name and was trying to open a bank account when he was arrested.
Before the hearing began, the CPS had submitted a new file with additional evidence against Nirav Modi in the Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
Nirav Modi was arrested on behalf of the Indian authorities from Holborn in London on March 19 in connection with the Rs 13,500-crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud case.
He was sent to police custody and the next day, was produced before a judge at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, who denied him bail and deferred the hearing for Friday.
Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi 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 a few bank employees.
Both fled India before the details of the fraud emerged in January 2018. The ED on February 26, 2018 attached property worth Rs 147 crore of Nirav Modi and his associate companies in connection with the case.
On May 24 and 26, 2018, it filed charge sheets and sought non-bailable warrants against the duo.
The Interpol also issued a Red Corner Notice against Nirav Modi in July 2018 at the request of the ED and the CBI.
An extradition request against him had been pending before the UK authorities since September last year.
However, the businessman’s whereabouts remained a mystery as he was spotted in New York, Hong Kong and other cities at different times.
His arrest came days after The Telegraph newspaper in Britain published a report earlier this month about Nirav Modi being spotted in London.
The daily reported that he was living in a three-bedroom flat, occupying half the floor of the landmark Centre Point tower block.
The paper said that Nirav Modi was involved in a new diamond business, run from an office in Soho, just a few hundred yards from his apartment. The new business was incorporated in May 2018, it added.