London: An appeal opened on Tuesday against a lower court's decision to deny India's extradition request for UK-based alleged bookie Sanjeev Kumar Chawla, a key accused in the cricket match-fixing scandal involving former South African captain Hansie Cronje in 2000.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), arguing on behalf of the Indian government, had sought an appeal over a Westminster Magistrates' Court ruling rejecting the extradition of UK-based Chawla, wanted in India as a key accused in the cricket match-fixing scandal.
Lord Justice Leggatt and Justice Dingemanns began hearing the Indian government's grounds for the appeal at a day-long hearing this morning.
District Judge Rebecca Crane had discharged the accused after the magistrates' court hearing in London in October last year on human rights grounds over severe conditions in Delhi's Tihar Jail, where Chawla was to be held on being extradited.
The District Judge had noted in her judgment dated October 16, 2017, 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".
However, on hearing the expert evidence from Dr Alan Mitchell, a licensed medical practitioner and a former medical officer with the Scottish prison system, she 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 After his Indian passport was revoked in 2000, the 50-year-old obtained a UK passport in 2005 and is now a British citizen.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 in court, 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 amounts 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 2000, with Chawla, Cronje and others conspiring to fix cricket matches in exchange for payment, with Chawla reportedly playing a central role, including direct contact with Cronje.
The details of the offence were provided in an affidavit by Bhisham Singh, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Crime Branch (South), Delhi Police, which includes 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.
However, she took into account various human rights organisation reports as well as Dr 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.
The Indian authorities, through the CPS team, will now have to convince the high court judges with assurances that Chawla's rights will not be infringed on being extradited to India.
The hearing comes against the backdrop of another high-profile extradition request by the Indian government, involving liquor baron Vijay Mallya.
The 62-year-old businessman is wanted in India on alleged fraud and money laundering allegations amounting to nearly Rs 9,000 crores related to his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines.
His case is currently being heard at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London and is set to come up for one its final hearings on Friday before Judge Emma Arbuthnot rules on it by next month.
Mallya's defence team had also deposed the same prisons expert, Dr Alan Mitchell, to argue that conditions in all Indian jails are "far from satisfactory".