FORMER Indian Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju was challenged on Friday (11) as a “self-publicist” in the extradition case of fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi via a videolink from India at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
On the final day of a five-day hearing, Justice Samuel Goozee heard Katju’s detailed evidence before adjourning the case until November 3, when he will hear arguments on the admissibility of the evidence provided by the Indian authorities on the charges of fraud and money laundering against Modi in the £1.55-billion Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam case.
The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), arguing on behalf of the Indian government, sought to counter Katju’s written and oral claims that Modi would not receive a fair trial in India because a majority of the judiciary was corrupt and the investigating agencies subservient to the government.
“Is it at least possible, you are something of a self-publicist who will make any outrageous statements for the purpose of courting the press?” questioned CPS barrister Helen Malcolm.
Standing his ground, Katju replied: “You are entitled to your opinion.”
When Malcolm queried his media interviews in India earlier this week related to the evidence he was to give before the UK court in a sub judice matter, the former Supreme Court judge said he merely responded to reporters’ questions, and that it was his duty to speak out on matters of “national importance”.
During what became a quite a fiery exchange in court at times, some of his past controversial statements were also read out in court, in reference to gay relationships being “unnatural”, and women who remained single being “prone to psychological problems”.
Katju countered by stating that he was entitled to his opinion and that he had quoted from Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, adding that Malcolm, “as a Britisher”, should have read it.
The former judge was deposed by Modi’s defence team in order to substantiate its claims that the fugitive jeweller would face an unfair and biased trial if extradited to India.
Katju also repeatedly made comparisons between current India and Nazi Germany, saying Modi had been made a “convenient scapegoat” – akin to the Jews in under the Nazi regime – amid economic crisis in India.
Asked by the CPS if the diamantaire’s alleged dishonest actions could be to blame, Katju said: “I am not making any statements on the merits of this case. I am simply saying that he cannot get a fair trial [in India]… all ministers and media have pronounced him guilty.”
His assertion that post-retirement appointments were among the inducements which led to corruption among judges brought his own appointment as the chair of the Press Council of India following his retirement into focus, which he stressed was not a government appointment.
“So, the three-member appointment committee – composed of the speaker of the Lower House, chairman of the Upper House (vice-president of India) and a Press Council member – is completely apolitical and nothing to do with the government?” queried Malcolm.
The hearing on Thursday had concluded the bulk of the oral evidence in the extradition case, watched by Modi via videolink from a room in Wandsworth Prison in London – where he has been lodged since his arrest in March last year.
The first set of hearings in the case took place in May, with the hearings this week slotted to complete arguments to establish the 49-year-old jeweller has a case to answer before the Indian courts.
The defence team, led by barrister Clare Montgomery, had presented experts to highlight Modi’s fragile mental health condition and a “high risk of suicide”.
She also claimed that the conditions at Barrack 12 in Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai, where he would be lodged on being extradited, did not meet the court’s human rights criteria.
The CPS argued that the Indian government had given assurances of adequate prison conditions, and appropriate mental health care for Modi, if he gets extradited.
A hearing for final submissions in the case was set aside for December 1, but that date was likely to be delayed, with a ruling in the case not expected before the end of this year or early next year.