Old case gives hope for Nirav Modi's early extradition

Old case gives hope for Nirav Modi's early extradition

The government is studying a 14-year-old case to strengthen its plea to Hong Kong authorities for arresting fugitive business tycoon Nirav Modi and extraditing him to India.

New Delhi hopes that bringing Nirav Modi from Hong Kong to India will be easier than getting another fugitive business tycoon, Vijay Mallya, extradited from the United Kingdom.

What made the officials of the Ministry of External Affairs as well as the probe agencies like Central Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement Directorate hopeful is the precedence set by the 2003-04 case of extradition of businessman Ashok Tahilram Sadarangani, from Hong Kong to India, sources in New Delhi told DH.

India on March 23 formally requested the authorities of Hong Kong to provisionally arrest Nirav Modi, who has been accused of defrauding Punjab National Bank of about Rs 13000 crore.

New Delhi sought the extradition of Nirav Modi from Hong Kong to India in accordance with the bilateral agreement it inked with the government of the special administrative region of China in June 1997 for the surrender of fugitive offenders wanted by each other. The Department of Justice of the Hong Kong government is currently studying New Delhi's request.

Nirav left India on January 1. The MEA on February 23 revoked his passport in accordance with Section 10-A of the Passports Act, 1967. The passport of his business associate Mehul Choksi was also revoked.

Sources aware of New Delhi's contacts with the authorities in Hong Kong said that the government of the Special Administrative Region of China had in 2004 acted fast on India's request for extradition of Sadarangani, who had been accused of defrauding Bank of Maharashtra and Union Bank of India of approximately Rs 8.5 crore.

Sadarangani had jumped bail and fled the country in 2001. With the help of Interpol, the Central Bureau of Investigation had been able to trace him to Hong Kong in November 2003. The authorities in Hong Kong had swiftly acted on the request of New Delhi and placed him under arrest on December 1, 2003. A local court had ordered his extradition in March 2004. He had finally been extradited from Hong Kong to India on June 6, 2004.

“Compared to Nirav, Sadarangani was a small fry, of course, if we go by the amount of money the two were accused of defrauding,” an official, who studied the 2003-04 case, said.

“We are however studying the old case to assess how Hong Kong authorities generally respond to request for extradition of people accused of financial fraud. They apparently acted promptly in case of Sadarangani and we can expect that they would do the same in case of Nirav,” added the official.

India's envoy to China, Gautam Bambawale, visited Hong Kong on March 29 and met senior officials in the local administration.

Hong Kong had in 2013 declined the American Government's request for extradition of Edward Snowden, who had embarrassed Washington by exposing a secret global surveillance programme run by US National Security Agency. The US had publicly expressed its disappointment after Hong Kong had allowed Snowden to leave its territory and travel to Russia.

New Delhi, however, expects that Hong Kong would act fast on its request for extradition of Nirav, as no political issue is involved in this case, unlike that of Edward Snowden.

The officials, however, are not much hopeful about speeding up the process of getting Vijay Mallya extradited from the United Kingdom. The business tycoon is wanted in India for his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines' default on loans worth nearly Rs 9000 crore.

New Delhi asked London to extradite him in accordance with India-UK extradition treaty. The UK police arrested him on April 18 last year, but he was granted bail by the Chief Magistrate Emma Louise Arbuthnot of Westminster Magistrates' Court.

The court is now hearing the pleas of Governments of India and UK as well as the defence of Mallya, who challenged the move for his extradition. Officials in New Delhi said that the process would take long, given UK's complex legal system and the opportunities available for a fugitive to challenge a lower court's order for his extradition in higher courts.

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