On Thursday, an extradition court in the UK ordered that fugitive Nirav Modi will be extradited to India to face trial in the ₹14,000-crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam. The UK’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court also acknowledged that the diamantaire conspired to destroy evidence and intimidate witnesses, and said that he is “satisfied that there is evidence that Mr Modi could be convicted”. Dismissing pleas of poor condition of Indian jails, the judge said that Barrack 12 at Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai is fit for Nirav Modi.
The Westminster Magistrates’ Court issued a detailed order, mentioning various arguments during the hearing, and giving reasons why he accepted or rejected those arguments. In the 83 page, the comments of the court on two individuals who had given statements as experts in defence of Nirav Modi stand out. Both of them are former judges in India, and the UK court made some very scathing remarks criticising their biased opinions, and rejected their contentions.
The first one is former Supreme Court judge Justice Markandey Katju, who had deposed before the UK court as an expert witness on Nirav Modi’s behalf. He had opposed the extradition plea of the Indian government saying that Modi would not get a free and fair trial in India. In a written statement submitted to the court, justice Katju had alleged that Modi was being subjected to a media trial in India, and had said that the judiciary in India was highly politicized and corrupt.
However, Judge Sam Gooze of Westminster Court discarded the comments made by Katju, and made some sharp observations against him. The UK judge said that he attached “little weight to Justice Katju’s expert opinion”, and said that despite being a former judge in Supreme Court of India, his opinion was “less than objective and reliable”.
The UK court also noted that “his evidence in Court appeared tinged with resentment towards former senior judicial colleagues.” The judge further said regarding Katju’s opinions, “it had hallmarks of an outspoken critic with his own personal agenda. I found his evidence and behaviour in engaging the media the day before giving evidence to be questionable for someone who served the Indian Judiciary at such a high level appointed to guard and protect the rule of law.”
The court was referring to Justice Katju going to the media before giving evidence in the court, calling it a questionable conduct. The judgement also reveals that during cross-questioning, Katju had admitted that he has not considered the evidence give by the court in the court.
The judge also strongly objected to certain comments the former Supreme Court judge made during the cross-examination, saying that “Justice Katju made some astonishing, inappropriate and grossly insensitive comparisons.” Katju had said that because the BJP cannot solve the economic crises it is just like “Hitler and the Jews”. He had said, “Nirav Modi is the Jew that must be blamed for all the problems in India”. But when he was challenged for such a comment, he had stated that he was not commenting on the merits of the case but, saying that Nirav Modi cannot get a fair trial in India under BJP.
Interestingly, the UK court judge also pointed out several contradictions in the comments and actions of Katju. He noted that while Katju was blaming trial by media in the case, he himself had gone to media before giving his statement to the court.
Kajtu had also brought up the matter of former CJI Ranjan Gogoi appointed as Rajya Sabha member, saying that it was done on a quid pro quo basis against a Supreme Court judgement, and asserted that it was an example of collusion and corruption. However, the UK court reminded that Katju had himself accepted government appointment after he was retired from the Supreme Court, as he was appointed as Chairman of the Press Council of India by the Indian government after his retirement.
During the trial, the Indian government’s lawyer Helen Malcom QC and Nicholas Heren quoted some outrageous comments Kajtu has made in the past. They mentioned how Katju had said “90% Indians are fools”, “gay relationships are humbug and non-sense”, “women who remain single are prone to psychological problems”, “50% of judges are corrupt” etc.
The Westminster Court in London also disregarded the opinion of Justice Abhay Thipsay, former judge of the Bombay High Court, saying that he “attach no weight to his opinions set out in his reports and in oral testimony.” Justice Thipsay had claimed that the case against Nirav Modi will fail in an Indian court, as it didn’t have any victim. He had claimed that “if the victim is not deceived, there would be no cheating”.
“There must have been a victim who has been deceived …But I cannot find anybody deceived by the issuing LOU”, the former high court judge had claimed. The Court also noted that the government of India had alleged that Thipsay’s comments were directed by the Congress party, as he had joined Congress after retirement. After Union Low Minister Ravi Shankar had criticised him for defending Nirav Modi in the UK Court, Thipsay had refused to give further evidence. As a result, the Court said that his evidence could not be subjected to scrutiny.
Rejecting the arguments supporting Nirav Modi, which were mostly based on alleged of corrupt system in India not ensuring fair trial, the court expressed confidence on Indian democracy. The court said, “India is governed by it written constitution which has at its core the fundamental principle of the independence of the judiciary by virtue of the separation of powers between judiciary, the executive and the legislature. There is no cogent or reliable evidence that the judiciary in India are no longer independent, or capable of managing a fair trial even where it is a high-profile fraud with significant media interest.”