EXPERTS told a UK court hearing arguments in the extradition case of Nirav Modi on Thursday (10) that the fugitive diamantaire had a family history of suicide, and that his mental health in prison would deteriorate in solitary confinement.
Justice Samuel Goozee at London’s Westminster Magistrate’s Court was presented with three defence witnesses on day four of the five-day hearing, with each giving expert views on the 49-year-old jeweller’s severe depression, risk from Covid-19 and the lack of adequate facilities at Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai where he would be held on being extradited.
“Coupled with a severe condition of depression, in my view, he presents a high risk of suicide albeit not immediately,” said Dr Andrew Forrester, a forensic psychiatrist who has examined Modi on four occasions between September last year and August this year.
Referring to the “suicide of his mother”, Dr Forrester stressed that family history was a “significant feature” as Modi’s mental health condition was on a deteriorating, and met the criteria for hospital treatment in the absence of a multi-professional plan involving anti-depressants and psychotherapy.
He added that Modi was currently on anti-depressants, and the lack of supportive therapy or counselling due to Covid-19 restrictions in prison was leading to psychomotor retardation, a more severe form of depression which involves a manifest slowing down in movement and speech.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) — appearing on behalf of the Indian authorities in the £1.55-billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud and money laundering case — argued that the conditions at Barrack 12 in Arthur Road Jail would be better than those Modi was currently facing with in a locked-down Wandsworth Prison cell.
“If by contrast, he was given full access to multi-professional mental health care, better than he is currently getting at Wandsworth, would that assurance be helpful?” asked CPS barrister Helen Malcolm.
Forrester agreed to take that into account and discuss Modi’s treatment with any medical professionals appointed in India. He also dismissed the possibility of Modi “faking his symptoms” to deceive the court.
His testimony in court followed live videolink evidence from Thailand by Richard Coker, an emeritus professor at London School Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and an expert in epidemiology and infectious disease, in support of defence arguments over the high Covid-19 risk Modi would be exposed to at Arthur Road Jail – which had an outbreak in May.
While the Indian government had earlier submitted data to highlight that the outbreak has been fully contained, Coker countered: “Covid spreads extremely effectively through prisons… and the risk increases if community prevalence of disease is high.”
He assessed a 0.75 per cent risk of death should Modi contract Covid-19 at Arthur Road Jail, a figure the CPS sought to compare with other infectious diseases such as malaria.
“There is an equal possibility of bringing [Covid-19] into this courtroom, unwittingly,” said Malcolm, in reference to the risk factor from coronavirus in the wider community.
Better ventilation and space at the Indian jail was also highlighted as a positive, compared with the overcrowded setting at Wandsworth Prison in London.
Inadequate prison conditions once again remained at the heart of the defence arguments as they also deposed Dr Alan Mitchell, a medical practitioner and prisons expert as chair of the Independent Prisons Monitoring Group in Scotland.
Mitchell, who has in the past given evidence on the unsuitability of Barrack 12 in the extradition case of Kingfisher Airlines boss Vijay Mallya, reiterated some of his concerns around the lack of natural lighting.
Asked about the Indian government’s latest video of the Barrack played in court earlier in the week, he said: “Those are the elements you don’t pick up in a video.”
Meanwhile, Modi continued to observe the proceedings via videolink and referred to files laid out before him.
The CPS must establish a prima facie case against Modi to allow the judge to rule that he has a case to answer before the Indian courts. If the judge finds a prima facie case against Modi, it will go to Home Secretary Priti Patel to formally certify his extradition to India to stand trial.
A ruling in the case is not expected before the end of this year or early next year, with a hearing for final submissions tentatively scheduled for December 1.