New Delhi: A court in the United Kingdom on Wednesday again denied bail to diamond merchant Nirav Modi, having earlier twice rejected the plea. Modi is the main accused in the Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud and money laundering case amounting to an estimated $2 billion.
Modi is fighting an extradition case in connection to the scam. He is currently lodged at Her Majesty's Prison (HMP) Wandsworth, where he can hold sessions with his legal team to deliberate on the course of his extradition proceedings.
Dressed in a light-blue shirt and trousers, the 48-year-old appeared before Westminster Magistrates Court Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot and sat behind a glass enclosure as the hearing got underway.
Modi's defence team doubled the bail security to 2 million pounds and offered he would stay on 24-hour curfew at his London flat.
"Conditions in Wandsworth (prison) are unliveable... Modi is willing to abide by any conditions you choose to impose," his barrister Clare Montgomery told the judge during the lengthy hearing.
However, the judge was not convinced.
Judge Arbuthnot denied bail to Modi as she feared that he would fail to surrender. The next hearing has been scheduled for May 30.
Earlier, a spokesperson of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which represents the Indian government in the proceedings said, "He has had his two bail applications in the lower court. He can only make a third application if he can persuade the court that there has been a change in circumstances. He is arguing a change of circumstances based on new evidence".
"He will have to seek to persuade the Judge that this constitutes a change of circumstances and that he should be permitted to make another bail application," the spokesperson added.
When rejecting the previous bail application, Judge Arbuthnot had said, "This is a case of substantial fraud, with loss to a bank in India of between $1-2 billion. I am not persuaded that the conditional bail sought will meet the concerns of the government of India in this case."
The diamond dealer's attempt to acquire the citizenship of Vanuatu — a remote island in the South Pacific Ocean — in late 2017 went against him as the judge said it seemed like he was trying to "move away from India at an important time".
Modi was denied bail by District Judge Marie Mallon at his first hearing on March 20 soon after his arrest by Scotland Yard officers from a central London bank branch as he tried to open a new bank account and has been in custody at HMP Wandsworth prison in south-west London since then.
He was denied bail a second time on March 29 by Judge Arbuthnot who ruled that there were "substantial grounds" to believe that he would fail to surrender and also noted that "very unusually in a fraud case" the accused had made death threats to witnesses.
Modi was arrested by uniformed Scotland Yard officers in central London on March 19. During subsequent hearings, Westminster Magistrates' Court was told that Modi was the "principal beneficiary" of the fraudulent issuance of letters of undertaking (LoUs) as part of a conspiracy to defraud PNB and then laundering the proceeds of crime.
(With inputs from PTI)