New Delhi/London: India has been informed by the UK's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that it can initiate extradition proceedings against Indian diamantaire Nirav Modi even though his exact whereabouts remain uncertain, a senior Indian official said today.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has begun the process of filing an extradition request for Nirav Modi, which will then have to be approved by the UK Home Office following which an extradition warrant can be issued.
"There is no confirmation about Nirav Modi's whereabouts. He could be in the UK or indeed left the UK since his last reported exit on a flight to Paris. We have now been advised by the CPS that we can proceed with an extradition request so that a warrant can be issued and he can be arrested on being traced," the official said.
According to information available in the UK, Nirav Modi - wanted in India for an alleged Rs 13,500 crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud - arrived in London earlier this year on an Indian passport.
The UK government was informed about the revocation of that particular passport via a formal Note Verbale from the Indian authorities on February 19, following which the UK Home Office indicated that the businessman had already entered the UK on that travel document but there was no record of him exiting the country.
This gave rise to speculation in India that Nirav Modi may be hiding out in the UK. However, subsequently the Indian authorities became aware of multiple Indian passports being used by the diamond merchant, with his last documented exit from the UK at the end of March by air to Paris.
It remains unclear exactly how many passports Nirav Modi has been travelling on in the last few months and strict data protection laws in the UK have prevented the British government from confirming if he has indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK or if he has sought to apply for political asylum. "If he has ILR in the UK, he would have to be extradited.
However, if that is not the case, he can be deported on the basis of illegally travelling to Britain using fraudulent travel documentation. We are pursuing both these lines," the senior Indian official said. If Nirav Modi does go ahead with a political asylum request in the UK, it is likely to delay any extradition proceedings at the very least.
"It is much harder to succeed in an asylum claim from a constitutional democracy like India. However, if there was evidence of an unfair trial, a person's claim might succeed," said Mark Symes, a senior immigration barrister who has represented another wealthy Indian national in the past who was refused asylum by the UK Home Office but won the claim before an independent judge on appeal.
"Generally speaking, a person needs to prove they face persecution rather than prosecution. So, a legitimate prosecution that leads to a lawful conviction following a fair trial could not give rise to a viable claim. However, if the charges were politically motivated or the trial was very unfair or excess punishment might result, the claim might succeed," he explains.
A non-bailable warrant was issued against Nirav Modi and 10 other accused, including his family members, in the PNB fraud case following a chargesheet filed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) last month. The businessman is believed to have left India with his family around a month before the PNB filed its first complaint with the CBI at the beginning of this year.
Since then there has been a flurry of media speculation over his whereabouts and the kind of passport he is travelling on. Most of these reports have either been officially denied or remain unsubstantiated. The UK Home Office has refused to comment on "individual cases".