Bhandari gets nod to appeal against extradition from UK

SIT chief being questioned on clean chit to tainted Punjab police officer.(photo:IN)

Sanjay Bhandari, a consultant in the defence sector wanted in India on alleged tax evasion and money laundering charges, on Thursday won permission to appeal against his extradition order by the High Court in London.

Former Secretary of State, Suella Braverman, had ordered Bhandari’s extradition to face criminal proceedings in India last year following a Westminster Magistrates’ Court ruling in November 2022.

However, the 62-year-old businessman, who offered consultancy services to defence manufacturers bidding for Indian government contracts through his firm Offset India Solutions, had sought permission to appeal against the verdict of District Judge Michael Snow in the High Court. The case will now proceed to a four-day substantive hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London later this year.

“I am satisfied that the grounds are reasonably arguable,” ruled Justice Pushpinder Saini at the conclusion of a half-day renewal appeal hearing on Thursday.

Bhandari, represented by Janes Solicitors, had sought to appeal against the lower court verdict on eight grounds, three of which were granted in a court order by Justice Robert Jay last October and four others were approved during this week’s hearing.

“Grounds 3, 4 and 5 raise serious arguments which are worthy of consideration by the full Court. The further evidence will be considered at the substantive hearing de bene esse, without prejudice to the Respondent’s (government of India) case that it is not decisive,” reads Justice Jay’s order from last year.

Besides these grounds, which cover issues of human rights under Article 3 of the European Convention, reversed burden of truth and delays in system, Justice Saini further granted permission to appeal under grounds 1, 2 and 6 – which he said is relevant to ground 5 as it deals with the prospect of lengthy pre-trial detention in an Indian prison ahead of an extradition hearing.

The basis for the appeal was that the District Judge had “erred in his conclusions” that the offences were extradition offences and a prima facie case had been established against Bhandari.

“He [Snow] erred in both his conclusions that the conduct would constitute offences in this jurisdiction, and that there is admissible evidence to establish a prima facie case for each offence,” note Bhandari’s barristers Edward Fitzgerald and James Stansfeld.

The government of India, represented by barrister Alex du Sautoy for the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), had argued there was “no merit in any of the renewed grounds of appeal and permission ought to be refused”.

The case concerns two extradition requests from the Indian authorities, the first concerning an allegation of money laundering, contrary to Section 3 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act 2002 in India. The second request concerns an allegation of wilfully attempting to evade a tax, penalty or interest chargeable or imposable under the Black Money Act 2015 contrary to Section 51 of that act in India.

Bhandari, who was resident in India for tax purposes at the time in 2015, is accused of concealing overseas assets, using backdated documents, benefiting from the assets not declared to the Indian tax authorities and then falsely informing the authorities that he did not possess any overseas assets. He denies the allegations against him and has been fighting his extradition since the first request was certified by the UK Home Office in June 2020.

The CPS, on behalf of the Indian authorities, has argued that Bhandari’s conduct amounts to “fraud by false representation” in the British jurisdiction which will now be subject to a High Court challenge.

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