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Indian celebrity jeweller Modi appears in UK court

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Nirav Modi, India's fugitive jeweller to the stars, appeared at a London court on Thursday as his extradition battle focused on which prison India would send him to.

[LONDON] Nirav Modi, India's fugitive jeweller to the stars, appeared at a London court on Thursday as his extradition battle focused on which prison India would send him to.

Accused of involvement in a massive bank fraud that rocked India's corporate community, Modi, 48, appeared in custody at Westminster Magistrates Court and spoke only to confirm his name and date of birth.

Judge Emma  Arbuthnot, England's chief magistrate, said she wanted to know within 14 days which prison the Indian authorities intended to hold Modi in.

Judge Arbuthnot also said she wanted to receive the opening note in the case within six weeks, after state prosecutors, acting on behalf of the Indian authorities, said it would be difficult to provide it within four weeks.

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Modi fled India in February 2018 after being accused of having a central role in a US$1.8-billion fraud involving Punjab National Bank (PNB), the country's second-largest public lender.

Forbes estimated Modi's wealth at US$1.73 billion before the alleged fraud, placing him 85th on India's rich list.

Judge Arbuthnot ordered Modi to reappear before the court via video-link on June 27.

A further case management hearing was set for July 29, at which the judge said she would be expecting to set a date for the full extradition hearing.

Modi's lawyers indicated that it would take them six months to prepare their defence case.

Modi owned luxury jewellery stores in several major cities across the world and boasted celebrity customers including actresses Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet and Priyanka Chopra-Jonas before his downfall.

He was arrested in London on March 19.

That month, his art collection was auctioned off, raising US$8 million for the Indian tax authorities.

The Indian authorities also dynamited the billionaire's seafront mansion.

The 33,000 square-foot property near Mumbai, believed to be worth US$14 million, had been seized.

AFP