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Nirav arrested… at least two years needed for extradition

London/ Mumbai: Fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi, the main accused in the $2 billion PNB scam case whose escape to the UK has created a huge political uproar against the Narendra Modi government, was arrested from where he was believed to have been living in a plush apartment in Centre Point in West End, London, England, on Wednesday. District Judge Marie Mallon denied Modi bail and remanded him in custody till March 29, saying that there are "substantial grounds to believe that he would fail to surrender if granted bail".

"Nirav Deepak Modi, 48, was arrested on behalf of the Indian Authorities on Tuesday in Holborn," the London Metropolitan Police said in a statement. He was produced before the Westminster Magistrates' Court, where he contested his extradition to India. His arrest came days after a London court issued an arrest warrant against him in response to a request by India's Enforcement Directorate (ED) for his extradition in a money laundering case.

The news of the arrest sent ripples of excitement through the ruling BJP which described it as "a major victory". and dared the Opposition Congress to question the developments… ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. However, many legal, strategic and international affairs observers felt that this is a "premature over-reaction".

They pointed out that it would take a long time for Nirav Modi to actually face the extradition process initiated by the Indian government and that actual extradition would take at least two years, if at all possible. Quoting Sarosh Zaiwalla, founder-senior partner at Zaiwalla & Co. LLP, UK, IANS said that issuing the arrest warrant is just a first step of the legal process to extradite Modi.

Zaiwalla noted that Vijay Mallya was arrested and bailed out nearly two months later, when his extradition hearings began. "Nirav Modi will be subjected to a re-run of the Mallya case proceedings, starting from being directed to Westminister Magistrate, taken into provisional custody, applying for bail and the then the court will hear his plea." After the court rules for Modi's extradition, complications may arise as Modi has reportedly acquired citizenship of Belgium, a European Union country. As Brexit is likely to be delayed till at least June 30, Modi will now enjoy the legal rights of a EU resident in the UK.

It would also not matter if Modi remains on UK soil and there could be delays with a long legal battle ahead subject to various international and extraterritorial legalities involved. Zaiwalla said it would be interesting to see if Nirav Modi has applied for asylum in UK as the extradition proceedings are then unlikely to begin until that (asylum) application is rejected.

"A person who applies for asylum in the UK is given 'interim asylum' and his status as a legal resident of UK remains until his application is finally determined and he is given asylum or rejected," said Zaiwalla.

Calling Nirav Modi's arrest "an election gimmick", Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee questioned the timing of his arrest on Wednesday and termed it to be a "got-up match".

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