A UK judge who denied bail to Nirav Modi for a third time remained unconvinced that his community ties to Britain were strong enough to not make him a flight risk even though the fugitive diamond merchant was willing to double his security to 2 million pounds and live on a strict 24-hour curfew at his posh apartment in London.
The 48-year-old, wanted in India as the main accused in the Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud and money laundering case amounting to up to USD 2 billion, is back in prison after his bail was denied on Wednesday by Westminster Magistrates’ Court Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot.
Modi, clean-shaven and smartly dressed for court, sat in the dock and took notes as the prosecution painted a picture of a “diabolical” mastermind behind the luring away of witnesses, mostly his former employees, to far off destinations and destruction of potential evidence.
There were moments during the hearing of his third bail application at court when it seemed like Judge Arbuthnot might be persuaded to allow him out of prison on a “24-hour curfew” at his Centrepoint apartment in London.
“A combination of interference with witnesses, destruction of servers and mobile phones and the lack of community ties means I still have doubts that he would fail to surrender before the court,” she concluded in the end.
“There does seem to be a luring away of witnesses (to Egypt) and some pressure that took witnesses away from India,” she noted, making specific reference to a transcript of a conversation which indicated that Modi may have been using his US-based brother Nehal Modi to do his “dirty work as it were”.
In the judge’s own words, Modi’s barrister Clare Montgomery made a “compelling” argument against his continued imprisonment while he awaits trial in his extradition case and submitted that her client was willing to abide by any stringent conditions as long as he did not have to be lodged in the “unliveable” Wandsworth prison cell.
“His experience in custody has been vivid and damaging,” said Montgomery, as she sought to counter the evidence put forward by the Indian authorities.
A team from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as well as the High Commission of India were present in court as Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) barrister Nick Hearn presented the government of India’s arguments against Modi’s release from jail.