The UK High Court stayed the Indian government’s appeal against a lower court decision to deny the extradition request for alleged bookie Sanjeev Kumar Chawla, a key accused in the cricket match-fixing scandal involving former South African captain Hansie Cronje in 2000.
In a judgement handed down by Lord Justice Leggatt and Justice Dingemans in the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the Indian government’s appeal was stayed for it to provide further “assurances” to the court.
“The High Court has stayed the appeal of Sanjeev Chawla against extradition proceedings back to India,” a UK Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) spokesperson said.
“The CPS acknowledges the decision of the High Court and we will be seeking assurances from the Indian authorities to ensure that the individual can be returned to face criminal proceedings,” the spokesperson added.
The “assurances” sought are expected to be related to prison conditions in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, where Chawla, 50, is to be held if he is extradited to India to stand trial in the match-fixing case.
At an appeal hearing last month, the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), arguing on behalf of the Indian government, had claimed that an October 2017 ruling by Westminster Magistrates’ Court reflected a complete disregard of the “solemn diplomatic assurance” by India that Chawla will be treated within internationally-accepted norms for prison conditions.
The defence team, on the other hand, argued that District Judge Rebecca Crane had been right in turning down the extradition request on human rights ground and that there were currently “110 fugitives” not being extradited to India from around the world due to poor jail conditions in the country.
CPS barrister Mark Summers stressed that the prima facie case against the accused was established and that the Indian government was ready to provide any further information sought by the court in relation to his human rights.
“India is a mature and solid democracy, with which we have had a strong extradition relationship,” noted Summers, who is currently also arguing on behalf of India in the high-profile extradition case of liquor baron Vijay Mallya.
He had also dismissed concerns raised by the lower court around violence in Tihar and the lack of medical facilities, saying these were limited to “occasional outbursts” of gang violence and that there were sufficient medical facilities available.
“[The evidence] is long way from a sound basis to conclude that violence is endemic in Tihar,” he said.
In her judgement dated October 16, 2017, District Judge Crane had ruled 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 expert evidence from 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”.
Mallya’s defence team has also argued that India’s jail cells are “far from satisfactory” and used the same UK prisons expert as Chawla’s team, Mitchell, to back up their claims.
At the last hearing in the 62-year-old businessman’s extradition case on April 27, his defence had submitted further documents from Mitchell relating to Indian prison conditions.
According to court documents in the Chawla extradition case, the Delhi-born businessman 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, Chawla 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 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 February-March 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. PTI