London: India has moved Britain’s high court against a lower court’s decision to reject its request to extradite UK-based alleged bookie Sanjeev Kumar Chawla, a key accused in the cricket match-fixing scandal during South Africa’s tour of India in 2000.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has sought the appeal from the UK High Court on behalf of the Indian authorities.
District Judge Rebecca Crane had discharged the accused after a Westminster Magistrates’ Court hearing last month on human rights grounds over severe conditions in Delhi’s Tihar Jail where he was to be held on being extradited.
“We have sought an appeal but it is for the judge to decide. We don’t have any date for a possible decision,” a CPS spokesperson said.
If a high court judge feels that there are grounds for an appeal to be admitted, the case will proceed for a hearing.
The District Judge, in her October 16 judgment, had noted that she was satisfied there was a prima facie case against Chawla over his role in the fixing of “cricket matches played between India and South Africa during the tour of the South African cricket team to India under the captainship of Hansie Cronje in February-March 2000.”
On hearing expert evidence from Alan Mitchell, a licenced medical practitioner and a former medical officer with the Scottish prison system, the judge ruled in favour of Chawla on the grounds that his human rights would be violated in Tihar Jail under Section 87, Article 3 relating to “prohibition of torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment”.
“(There are) strong grounds for believing that the RP (Requested Person: Chawla) would be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the Tihar prison complex, due to the overcrowding, lack of medical provision, risk of being subjected to torture and violence either from other inmates or prison staff which is endemic in Tihar,” Judge Crane said in her judgment.
According to court documents, Delhi-born Chawla had moved to the UK on a business visa in 1996, where he has been based while making trips back and forth to India.
After his Indian passport was revoked in 2000, the 50-year-old obtained a UK passport in 2005 and is now a British citizen.
In details of the case that emerged during the hearing, Chawla was introduced to Hansie Cronje, the late South African cricket team captain, in January-February 2000.
It was suggested to Cronje, by Chawla and another person, that he could make significant amount of money if he agreed to lose cricket matches.
Money was paid to Cronje at the time of the pending South African tour to India.
The tour took place in February-March 2000, with Chawla, Cronje and others conspiring to fix cricket matches in exchange for payment. Chawla was reportedly playing a central role, including having direct contact with Cronje.
The details of the offence were provided in an affidavit by Delhi Police (Crime Branch) Deputy Commissioner of Police Bhisham Singh.
It included details of telephone conversations between the accused persons.
“There is clear evidence sufficient to make a case requiring an answer that the RP (Chawla) acted with others to fix the outcome of cricket matches by provided (sic) money to members of the South African cricket team,” the judge noted.
She, however, took into account reports of various human rights organisation as well as Mitchell’s testimony to conclude that there was a danger of Chawla’s human rights being infringed if he was to be extradited under the UK’s Extradition Act 2003.
“India’s Supreme Court in 2016 has detailed that overcrowding remains a problem and that prison reforms have led to little change in practice,” she noted.
Indian authorities, through the CPS team, will now have to convince a High Court judge with assurances that Chawla’s rights will not be infringed on being extradited to India if an appeal is to be admitted in the higher court.
Westminster Magistrates’ Court had also discharged a second extradition request from India, involving a fraud case against British Indian couple Jatinder and Asha Rani Angurala, on October 12.
The court is currently hearing the case of embattled liquor baron Vijay Mallya, wanted in India over loan defaults to several banks amounting to around Rs 9,000-crore.
The next hearing in his extradition case will come up before Judge Arbuthnot on November 20, with a trial scheduled to open on December 4.