London: Extradition matters have been keeping the Indian press corps in London exceptionally occupied of late. Foreign correspondents now double up as busy court reporters covering extradition proceedings one after another. There’s been much to do keeping track of hearings against Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, bookie Sanjeev Chawla and Dawood Ibrahim aide Jabir Motiwalla – and these are only the newsier cases.
It’s common to add Lalit Modi to the list, but there are no extradition proceedings against him. More extradition proceedings are due soon, featuring at least one prominent name.
The bookie Sanjeev Chawla is due to be brought back to Delhi this month. He’s moved every court in the land and outside, the last being the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that turned down his last possible appeal on Thursday this week.
A cell is ready for him in Tihar jail in Delhi, a cell that London courts have seen pictures of and which they consider is good enough for him, even if the man himself wouldn’t probably bet on a luxurious stay there.
Before Chawla, Samirbhai Vinubhai Patel wanted by the Gujarat police in the Godhra riots case was formally extradited in October 2016, but he returned voluntarily. Sanjeev Chawla, who will be persuaded by law to relocate from London’s Mayfair to Delhi’s Tihar within the next few days is the first Indian to have resisted extradition and lost.
At the Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Dawood Ibrahim’s top lieutenant Jabir Sadiq Motiwalla was ordered to be extradited to the US. Odd to some, but unsurprising to lawyers, the grounds on which Motiwalla resisted extradition to the US, and those cited by Sanjeev Chawla to resist return to India, were similar.
Chawla didn’t think detention facilities in New Delhi were suitable for him, and it was simultaneously argued for Motiwalla that detention facilities in New York were not good enough for him.
What those might turn out to be like in relation to Wandsworth prison in London where Motiwalla is currently detained, only he would be in a position to say at a later date if the extradition becomes final; he still can appeal against the order.
If sent to New York as ordered, and convicted after his indictment, Motiwalla could spend the rest of his days in prison in the US. He faces charges of extortion and money laundering, each of which carry a maximum 20-year sentence, and of smuggling narcotics into the US, that carries a life sentence. His defence also expressed strong fears charges of involvement in terrorism being added.
Motiwalla offered the defence that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the US secured evidence against him illegally within Pakistan, and that neither the Metropolitan Correction Centre nor the Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn, where he would be detained if extradited, meet satisfactory human rights standards.
One of these, it was argued, was without power and heating a whole week in an earlier winter. If the dire descriptions offered of the facilities in New York are anywhere near accurate, Tihar might well turn out to be more comfortable for Chawla than New York could be for Motiwalla.
Liquor baron Mallya, unlike the above two gentleman, has been living at home on bail while he fights the extradition case against him. The proceedings will enter their last stage next week. The High Court is due to hear his appeal against extradition for an expected three days from Tuesday.
This will be the last legal stop in this case one way or the other. If this appeal is refused, Mallya goes back to India with no recourse – appeals to the Supreme Court and to the European Court of Human Rights lie only theoretically; neither of these will change the verdict of the Appeals Court.
If Mallya wins, he simply gets to stay back in Britain - and in fact could then travel freely beyond England and Wales as well. After the appeal hearings next week, a final decision on extradition for Mallya is likely next month.
The appeal will be decided on the single issue of whether there is a prima facie case against Mallya or not; whether he defaulted wilfully or ran into genuine business losses.
Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot ordered his extradition (or recommended extradition to the Secretary of State as the legal process goes) after determining that he had been deceitful in his dealings with banks. Giving permission to appeal, the high court said "arguments can be reasonably made on some aspects of the prima facie case presented on behalf of the Indian government.”
Like Chawla, and Motiwalla, Mallya, too, had argued earlier over a course of almost a year in court that detention facilities in India would compromise his human rights. A specially built cell in Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail satisfied the magistrates’ court and later the high court that detention facilities were satisfactory. So that defence is no longer available to him.
Mallya has kept London’s Indian press corps busier than any other – the number of cases he’s involved in have been challenging to diarise, let alone remember. The Indian banks case against him asking him to be declared bankrupt so they could seize his assets, Diageo’s case to recover 40 million dollars it gave him, another case arose over his property in London.
Legal proceedings have arisen over his yacht Indian Empress, and over another, Force India, of which some form of beneficial ownership is suspected. Those cases continue independently of the extradition hearings.
Hearings in the extradition case against Nirav Modi are due to begin May 11. He, like Motiwalla, is currently in Wandsworth prison.