Fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi will not get a fair trial in India if extradited to face charges of major financial offences, former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju claimed on Friday while deposing as a defence witness in the Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
Appearing via video link from New Delhi, Katju alleged in his 130-minute deposition that the judicial system in India had collapsed, claiming that investigative agencies such as the CBI and Enforcement Directorate were acting at the behest of political masters.
The five-day hearing is part of Nirav Modi’s extradition trial in which the judge needs to decide whether there is a prima facie case against him in India on the basis of evidence submitted by the government of India – not to reach a judgement of conviction or guilt.
Katju talked about several cases and issues to substantiate his allegations, including the 2019 Ayodhya judgement by a Supreme Court bench headed by former chief justice Ranjan Gogoi, the latter’s subsequent nomination as a Rajya Sabha MP, the post-retirement appointment of judges, media trials and alleged corruption in the judiciary.
Questioning law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s claim in a press conference in May that Modi was a “criminal”, Katju said: “The government of India has made up its mind that Nirav Modi is a criminal. Is Prasad the judge? What kind of law minister is he? How can we expect a fair trial?”
“All ministers have pronounced him (Modi) guilty and the courts will do what they say…The present government needs a scapegoat to divert attention from other issues. Nirav Modi is the scapegoat, blamed for all ills,” the retired top court judge claimed.
“They have already pronounced him a criminal. I am definite that he will not get a fair trial in India. No lawyer will pick up his case. The justice system has collapsed; it is beyond redemption; it has bowed before political masters.”
Katju clarified that he cannot say anything about the charges of financial offences brought against Nirav Modi by CBI and ED, since he is not aware of the details, but repeated several times that he will not get a fair trial under the present circumstances.
Recalling the SC’s 2013 description of the CBI as a “caged parrot”, Katju alleged that things had worsened, claiming that CBI and ED were not politically neutral, with the Central Vigilance Commission “doing nothing”. According to him, such agencies had become “tools of political masters”.
Helen Malcolm, appearing on India’s behalf, questioned Katju about speaking to the news media in India on Thursday about his court appearance, and wondered if it was anything to do with his being a “self-publicist” keen to exploit the high-profile case.
Malcolm read out Katju’s remarks published in the past on same-sex relationships, about single women allegedly being prone to psychological problems, about “90% Indians are fools”, provoking agitated responses from Katju. At one point, he said: “I know more English literature than you”.
Malcolm said: “I don’t want to be discourteous but is it possible that you are a self-publicist who will make any outrageous comment to reach the press in this high-profile case. It is up to others to make a judgement about the use of your evidence”.
Katju said that Malcolm’s accusation that he is motivated by personal vanity or vainglory is not fair.