Nirav Modi
Nirav Modi

London: The Indian government on Wednesday submitted further documents as "corroboratory evidence" in its case of fraud and money laundering against fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi, who is contesting his extradition to India at an ongoing hearing in a UK court.

Westminster Magistrates' Court District Judge Samuel Goozee expressed concern at the late submission of the documents, said to include largely bank statements relating to the diamond merchant's companies, but allowed the application.

"On balance, I am going to allow the evidence to be introduced but time would have to be allowed for these to be analysed," he said.

The ruling means a delay to the timetable of the extradition case, with closing submissions on the prima facie case against Modi now moved to a second hearing already scheduled in the two-part case - planned for five days from September 7.

The hearing this week, initially scheduled to end on Friday, is now likely to conclude on Thursday after a final witness is produced by Modi's lawyers.

"The presentation of evidence in this case, which is voluminous, is not in the clearest of forms. I hope the government of India considers this carefully when preparing for the second hearing," the judge added, in reference to the very large bundles that make up the CBI and ED case.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), arguing in court on behalf of the Indian authorities, had said that while it was not necessary for the judge to see the new evidence, the documents "help clarify matters" and "back up what is already said" on the charge against Modi of defrauding Punjab National Bank (PNB) by deceitfully obtaining letters of undertaking (LoUs), or bank guarantees, and then laundering the proceeds through a complex set of worldwide transactions using dummy companies.

But Modi's defence team raised objections to the late submission as a "very troubling" and "highly contentious" move.

"Our case seems to have become a stress test for the government of India and for them to provide random pieces of evidence," said Modi's barrister Clare Montgomery.

The third day of the extradition trial, being held in a partly remote setting, was disrupted a few times as the link to the court's common viewing platform (CVP) faced some technical issues. It was finally stabilised for two defence witnesses to give their evidence via videolink - Thierry Fritsch, a high-end French jewellery expert, and Justice Abhay Thipsay from India.

Fritsch, who had served on the Advisory Board of Modi's company for three years since 2015, vouched for Modi's "integrity" and skills as a great entrepreneur and a creative person, who was passionate about establishing the first international brand of luxury jewellery out of India.

"I was totally impressed with the craftsmanship at the workshop (in India). It was the best quality I could see anywhere in the world," he said.

While his evidence was countered by the CPS as Fritsch being involved with only one aspect of the Modi brand, Justice Thipsay's witness statement on the legal nuances under Indian law around the inadmissibility of the some of the police statements as well as the definition of deception under Indian law was also challenged.

The 49-year-old jeweller has been following the court proceedings via videolink from a room at Wandsworth Prison in south-west London, where he has been lodged since his arrest in March last year.

Dressed in formals, he can be seen listening carefully and occasionally making notes as he refers to papers on a desk.

Modi has made repeated attempts at bail over the past year, each of which were turned down as he is deemed a flight risk.

The jeweller was arrested on March 19, 2019, on an extradition warrant executed by Scotland Yard and will be the subject of a second hearing in September when the two additional charges of "causing the disappearance of evidence" and intimidating witnesses or "criminal intimidation to cause death" are to be heard.

The judge has said that both the cases are "inextricably linked" and therefore the judgment will be handed down only at the end of both hearings.

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Free Press Journal