Updated: January 15, 2018 6:44:24 pm
The Indian government is set to move forward in two high-profile extradition cases in the UK courts, that of embattled liquor baron Vijay Mallya and alleged bookie Sanjeev Kumar Chawla.
Mallya’s case, which was left inconclusive over the issue of admissibility of evidence presented by the Indian authorities at a hearing last week, will return to Westminster Magistrates’ Court here on January 22. Judge Emma Arbuthnot is set to rule on the issue once Mallya’s defence team completes its argument claiming “absence of a strong prima facie case” and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), arguing on behalf of the Indian government, responds in favour of the evidence.
The 62-year-old, whose bail on an extradition warrant has been extended until April 2, is wanted in India on charges of fraud and money laundering allegedly amounting to around Rs 9,000 crore. The next week’s hearing is expected to also lead to a time-frame for closing arguments and verdict in the case, which seeks to establish that there are no bars to Mallya being extradited to India to stand trial.
A senior official has confirmed that India has now presented all clarifications sought by the judge during the trial, including regular medical assistance that will be made available to the businessman at Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai where he is to be held. “The defence lawyers are just raising issues to delay matters… we have done all the homework and whatever was necessary from our side,” minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju had said in reference to Mallya’s case during his UK visit last week.
The minister had also confirmed that India had raised the issue of 14 pending extradition cases, which includes the case of Chawla – a key accused in the cricket match-fixing scandal involving former South African captain Hanse Cronje in 2000. CPS, on behalf of the Indian government, had sought an appeal from the UK High Court against District Judge Rebecca Crane’s order in October last year to discharge Chawla on human rights grounds over severe conditions in Delhi’s Tihar Jail where he was to be held on being extradited. “The permission to appeal has been granted. No date has been set for a hearing yet,” a CPS spokesperson said today.
India had made the appeal on the grounds that many of its assurances regarding prison conditions had not been taken into account during the Westminster Magistrates’ Court trial, which should be considered by the High Court. The District Judge had noted in her judgment dated October 16, 2017, that she was satisfied there was a prima facie case against Chawla over his role in the fixing of “cricket matches played between India and South Africa during the tour of the South African Cricket Team to India under the captainship of Hansie Cronje in February-March 2000”.
However, on hearing expert evidence from Dr Alan Mitchell, a former medical officer with the Scottish prison system who was also deposed by Mallya’s defence team as a prisons expert, she ruled in favour of Chawla on the grounds that his human rights would be violated in Tihar Jail. “(There are) strong grounds for believing that the RP (Requested Person: Chawla) would be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the Tihar prison complex, due to the overcrowding, lack of medical provision, risk of being subjected to torture and violence either from other inmates or prison staff which is endemic in Tihar,” Judge Crane said in her judgment.
According to court documents, Delhi-born 50-year-old Chawla had moved to the UK on a business visa in 1996, where he has been based while making trips back and forth to India. After his Indian passport was revoked in 2000, he obtained a UK passport in 2005 and is now a British citizen. In details of the case that emerged during the extradition hearing, Chawla was introduced to Cronje, the late South African cricket team captain, in January-February 2000. It was suggested to Cronje, by Chawla and another person, that he could make significant amounts of money if he agreed to lose cricket matches.
Money was paid to Cronje at the time of the pending South African tour to India. The tour took place in February-March 2000, with Chawla, Cronje and others conspiring to fix cricket matches in exchange for payment, with Chawla reportedly playing a central role, including direct contact with Cronje. The details of the offence were provided in an affidavit by Bhisham Singh, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Crime Branch (South), Delhi Police, which includes details of telephone conversations between the accused persons.
“There is clear evidence sufficient to make a case requiring an answer that the RP [Chawla] acted with others to fix the outcome of cricket matches by provided (sic) money to members of the South African cricket team,” the judge noted.
However, she took into account various human rights organisation reports as well as Mitchell’s testimony to conclude that there was a danger of Chawla’s human rights being infringed if he was to be extradited under the UK’s Extradition Act 2003.
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