Extraditing fugitives

WHEN UK Home Secretary Priti Patel gave the nod to extradite fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi, India managed to record a fleeting success thanks to a consistently concerted push from South Block. The Centre had put its might behind this case, more because the extradition of Nirav, his uncle Mehul Choksi and Vijay Mallya has become a matter of political prestige for a regime which had vowed to bring back illegal wealth stashed abroad. Yet, only one out of three fugitives is being brought back despite PM Modi’s repeated reiterations and increasing globalisation and interconnectivity that make it tougher for offenders to escape into oblivion.

In most cases, the blame lies here. A British couple escaped extradition because the case was pending for 25 years. The extradition request against former IPL chief Lalit Modi was filed after a decade. Karamjit Singh Chahal (charges of separatism), Sanjeev Chawla (illegal betting) and Kim Davy (terrorism) won reprieves because of poor prison conditions. After the government violated Abu Salem’s extradition condition by slapping additional cases, India may have foreclosed the possibility of more such extraditions from the EU. India needs to sign the UN Convention against Torture as also improve the capacity and efficiency of investigating agencies to conduct speedy investigations. The Centre has already repaired some of the lacunae with the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act.

Extradition, however, is also a political process like it is a judicial one. Many of the financial fugitives are in Western countries which have double standards with regard to the moneybags. Also, white-collar criminals rarely get their just deserts. That is why Jan Marsalek of the Wirecard scandal and former Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn feel safe in Russia and Lebanon, respectively. Political imperatives also stalled the extradition of late Warren Anderson and David Headley. Nevertheless, India should strive to continue firming up the external processes for speedy extradition. Its extradition treaties with 43 countries compares poorly with 100 each by the US and the UK. One Nirav should not lead to complacency.

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