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India’s junior minister for home, Kiren Rijiju, is learnt to have asked for “smooth and early” extradition of the alleged fraudster during his meeting on Monday with Baroness Williams, UK minister of state for countering terrorism.
Sources in Delhi said the UK delegation confirmed the presence of Nirav Modi, whose whereabouts have been the subject of conflicting speculation, as well as that Williams offered UK’s cooperation in India’s efforts to extradite the disgraced diamond trader as well as other fugitives like liquor tycoon Vijay Mallya who are ensconced in UK.
“I had a very useful meeting with UK Minister Baroness Williams. We discussed about India-UK joint efforts to deal with terrorism and extremism. We also agreed to cooperate in the matters of extradition and sharing of information,” Rijiju told reporters after the hour-long meeting.
India’s attempt to get hold of the fugitive diamond trader, who is at the centre of Rs 13,000 crore Punjab National Bank fraud, came amid unconfirmed reports that he might seek political asylum in UK.
Though UK has often hosted individuals who take shelter here to avoid prosecution in their own countries, granting asylum to Nirav Modi could create a diplomatic rift between the UK and India, a top Indian official said. BJP and the opposition have sparred over the fraud involving Nirav as also the fact that he left the country just when bank officials were beginning to get wiser about having been taken for a ride.
In fact, during his meeting with Williams, Rijiju is learnt to have stressed that UK should not be viewed as a safe haven for criminals wanted in other countries. With fugitives like Mallya resisting their extradition in UK courts by citing poor condition of Indian jails, the Indian minister, it is learnt, sought to assure the UK minister of “absolute safeguards against human rights violations in Indian prisons”.
The celebrity jeweller, who has a shop in Old Bond Street, is staying in a flat in Mayfair, according to a source. His American wife Ami is still in New York, the source added.
Nirav Modi and his family left India in January before the CBI and ED started investigating him and his uncle Mehul Choksi for swindling PNB of more than Rs 13,000 crore through their companies using fraudulent LoUs. Both agencies have now filed chargesheets in the Indian courts against the two men and others.
“We have not got any information that he has applied for political asylum here,” a senior diplomat at the High Commission of India in London told TOI on Monday. “We have asked the UK Home Office and no one has confirmed he has applied for asylum. As soon as we have confirmation he is here, we will apply for extradition.
The UK government told us that he entered the UK around the end of January, beginning of February but there is no confirmation if he is still here, or if he has left.” However there have been reports that, seeking advice on political asylum, Modi approached two London law firms connected to another economic offender Vijay Mallya.
They are Boutique Law, which is representing Mallya in his extradition case and Mishcon de Reya LLP, which is representing Ladywalk LLP, one of the defendants, alongside Mallya, in the worldwide freezing of Mallya’s assets High Court case.
The mortgage of Mallya’s Tewin home is in the name of Ladywalk LLP. The passports of diamantaire Modi and owner of Gitanjali Gems Choksi were both revoked by India in February.
“Even Interpol cannot confirm if he is here. If the UK Government does give him political asylum, then it would become a diplomatic issue as that means the UK is saying India is acountry that politically persecutes its people. Besides which it is clear that he has committed fraud,” the diplomat added. Another well-placed source told TOI: “He has not applied for political asylum. That story was planted in the UK media.
The Government of UK has confirmed to the Government of India that Nirav Modi is in the UK but they have not said under what passport he entered. He has a registered company in the UK. ,” he said.
“That is why no extradition request has been made by India yet. Interpol have to declare him an offender first.” A UK Home Office spokesman refused to divulge any details and just said “the UK Government does not routinely comment on individual cases” and added “someone may apply for asylum on multiple grounds.”
“Anyone can apply for political asylum in the UK provided they apply as soon as they arrive or as soon as they are aware they are at risk,” said Sarosh Zaiwalla, founder and senior Partner at Zaiwalla & Co. LLP London. “Anyone who applies is immediately granted it and that is why the UK is a popular destination for asylum seekers.
But long term you would need to prove you are a political victim, and there is a vendetta against you. A decision can take six months to a year.” Neither law firm nor Interpol responded to enquiries from TOI.
Letter Rogatories (LRs) in the cases lodged against Nirav Modi by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the CBI and the income tax department were sent to the UK Central Authority (UKCA) on March 19, April 14 and April 15 respectively.
The UKCA has forwarded these LRs to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) for execution and conveyed that action would be taken on implementation of the ED LR. The ED and the SFO have entered discussions on the way forward.