A Bombay High Court judge, on February 14, recalled a month-old order that had inadvertently given a big relief to fugitive diamond jeweller Nirav Modi, in connection with the ongoing money laundering probe against him. Justice AM Badar, on January 6, in an ex-parte order, directed a trial court to not pass a final order against Modi on the fugitive economic offender (FEO) issue.
When Badar gave this order, neither the lawyers representing Modi nor the government informed him that the trial court had already passed a final order declaring Modi an FEO on December 6, 2019.
On February 14, recalling his January order, Badar noted that the daily board list of January 6 clubbed and listed the petitions filed by Mehul Choksi, along with those of Modi. Both Choksi and Modi are being represented in the high court by the same lawyer. Badar said while the lawyer for the Enforcement Directorate (ED) “sought adjournment” for filing reply only in case of Choksi’s petition against being declared FEO, the HC passed an interim order directing the trial court to “not pass final order” in case of both Choksi and Modi as their petitions were listed together.
“… there was no need to pass the order to the effect that the trial court was not to proceed to pass final order in the matter of Nirav Modi. As both the parties have not informed this aspect, common order came to be passed in all four applications,” said Badar in the fresh order, after hearing the ED plea for a recall of the old ruling.
“In this view of the matter, order dated 6th January 2020 so far as it relates to Criminal Application bearing No.1580 of 2019 (Nirav Modi v. State of Maharashtra and Anr.) is recalled,” the order said. The ED has now been given a week to file its reply to Choksi’s petition, after which the HC will decide if the trial court can pass an order on the issue of declaring Choksi an FEO.
Last December, a special court designated under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), declared Modi a “fugitive economic offender” under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018 — enacted against those fleeing the country to evade the process of law. When Modi left India on January 1, 2018, he was aware about payments that were due on January 25, 2018 to Punjab National Bank (PNB) on the Letters of Undertaking (LoUs) issued to his firms, and therefore he left the country in “suspicious circumstances”, the court had said.
The ED had filed a plea to declare Modi an FEO in 2018. The agency had submitted that Modi left India due to his involvement in an alleged bank fraud to the tune of Rs 6,498.70 crore in connivance with the bank staff, though the diamantaire claimed it was a business-related trip. The court had accepted the contention that Modi left the country to avoid criminal prosecution.
“The material on record leads to draw inference that Modi left the country under the circumstances rendering suspicious his behaviour in order to dodge the forthcoming penal consequences of the acts he has done or committed while in India till 2017,” the special court had said. The same court is now hearing submissions for confiscation of his property.
Both Choksi and his nephew Modi are accused of routing transactions of about Rs 15,600 crore through fraudulent LoUs of PNB. Both left India in first week of January 2018, before the PNB scam came out in public. Modi has been arrested in the UK and is currently facing extradition proceedings, while Choksi currently resides in Antigua and Barbuda.
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