London: Fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi, wanted in India on fraud and money laundering charges amounting to USD 2 billion, spent Holi behind bars in one of England’s most overcrowded jails on Thursday, a day after a UK judge rejected his bail application.
The 48-year-old was arrested by Scotland Yard on Tuesday and presented before District Judge Marie Mallon at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London on Wednesday. The judge remanded him in custody till March 29 after which he was transferred to Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) Wandsworth in south-west London.
While he would hope to be held in a separate cell, the overcrowding pressures of the jail may mean him sharing a prison cell with any of its around 1,430 male prisoners. Modi, one of India’s richest men accustomed to the high-life and celebrity circles around the world, will be faced with some harsh conditions at the prison amid some dubious inmates.
During the most recent inspection carried out in February-March 2018, the Victorian-era jail was found by UK Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke to be “one of the most overcrowded in England and Wales” and filled with many men with drug or mental health problems, receiving poor training and education.
“Despite six self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection, it was concerning to find that not all staff were carrying anti-ligature knives, that no staff would enter a cell alone even if a prisoner’s life was in danger and that the response to cell call bells was totally inadequate,” he noted.
Prison cells designed for one prisoner are often occupied by two, with poorly-screened lavatories and inmates being allowed far too little time out of their cells, his inspection had concluded.
The living conditions will certainly be in stark contrast to the luxury apartment at Centre Point in the West End of London where Modi has been living over the past year, as it was confirmed during court proceedings on Wednesday.
“He has done everything he possibly can to be visible, to demonstrate his keenness to fully cooperate [with UK authorities], George Hepburne Scott, Modi’s Barrister, told the court in support of his bail application.
Among the details that emerged during the hearing, it was claimed that Modi was in the UK “lawfully”, having acquired a National Insurance No. offered only to legal residents to be able to live and work in the UK.
He had reportedly also been paying his Council Tax, which is a local tax paid by a UK resident to the local authority and also serves as an identity document for address proof. Based on this, he also received an offer from the UK electoral register to register to vote and had submitted one of three passports to the UK’s Driving and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) to apply for a driver’s licence.
However, Modi’s defence team’s efforts to establish his credibility as a lawful UK resident who had no intention of jumping bail and fleeing were strongly objected to by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), arguing on behalf of the Indian authorities.
The judge in the end ruled in favour of the Indian authorities, concluding that the wanted diamantaire had “substantial grounds” to fail to surrender, and remanded him in custody until his next hearing, scheduled for March 29.
The court was told that Modi is wanted by the Indian authorities for his role as a partner in a number of entities, namely Diamonds R Us, Stellar Diamonds and Solar Exports, involved in the laundering of money and the fraudulent issuing of Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) to Punjab National Bank (PNB).