Nirav Modi has sought asylum in the United Kingdom, says report

Vidya Ram London | Updated on June 11, 2018

Nirav Modi

Issue seen to be different from Vijay Mallya’s extradition process

The precarious bilateral relationship between India and Britain is set to be tested even further, amid unofficial confirmation that Nirav Modi, the fugitive jeweller, has fled to Britain seeking political asylum.

British Foreign Office and Indian government officials confirmed to the Financial Times on Sunday that Modi has sought political asylum, following months of speculation as to his whereabouts.

While parallels will be drawn with the case of Vijay Mallya, the liquor baron whose extradition India is currently pursuing through the British court system, the cases appear to be quite different.

Mallya, who had his Indian passport revoked by Indian authorities, has said he has been a British resident, now with indefinite leave to remain, since 1992. The decision on sending him back to India lies within Britain’s court system, under a process set out in a 1992 bilateral extradition treaty.

Nirav Modi — if he has claimed political asylum as reports suggest — would have to navigate Britain’s highly uncertain political asylum process. It is not known which passport he is travelling on, though some reports suggest it is Singaporean.

“To be eligible you must have left your country and be unable to go back because you fear persecution,” explains a section of the British government’s website on applying for asylum, which urges those who apply to do so as soon as they arrive or deem it unsafe to return to their own country. A decision on an application could take six months, it estimates.

“Seeking political asylum would involve the suggestion he’s being hounded by the government for political reasons,” says Sarosh Zaiwalla, founder of London-based law firm Zaiwalla & Co, who has dealt with a number of cases involving high-profile political asylum claims.

Unlike the Mallya case, which is being heard at Westminster Magistrates Court, the claim for political asylum would be considered by the Home Office’s UK Border Agency. “It’s an administrative decision but one that India can feed into,” said Zaiwalla, who noted that unlike in an extradition case, where the onus is on the country applying for extradition to prove there was a prima facie case to be heard against him (and that other criteria such as prison conditions were met), in a claim for political asylum, the burden of proof would be on the claimant.

However, a London-based source cast doubt on whether Nirav Modi would be going down the route of claiming political asylum, saying the key question would be if he has indefinite leave to remain in Britain (in which case the extradition process would have to kick in).

The diamantaire’s apparent decision to flee to the UK comes at a particularly sensitive time for bilateral relations, with tensions not only over Britain’s immigration system (and its treatment of Indian nationals, particularly skilled professionals), but also over the questions about Indian jails raised in recent court cases.

While India has by and large sought to emphasise its respect for the UK judicial system and processes, the issue has surfaced at a political level, too. The issue of jail conditions has figured in India’s attempt to extradite Mallya (to Arthur Road Prison) as well as alleged bookie Sanjeev Chawla (to Tihar). India is currently appealing a judge’s decision to deny the extradition of Chawla because of concerns around conditions at Tihar.

PTI adds: The CBI has asked Interpol to issue a Red Corner Notice against Nirav Modi in the over $2-billion scam involving Punjab National Bank, officials said. The notice would allow member countries of the international police cooperation agency to arrest and extradite Modi.

He was last publicly seen in a Press Information Bureau group photograph of corporate honchos with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Davos, Switzerland.

Published on June 11, 2018

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