A London-based couple, Kaval Raizada, 35, and Arti Dhir, 58, who narrowly escaped extradition to India over charges related to the murder of an adopted orphan from Gujarat, now find themselves awaiting trial on allegations of exporting 550 kilograms of cocaine to Sydney, Australia.
Their legal journey has been filled with twists and turns, culminating in their upcoming trial scheduled for October 30, 2023, at Southwark Crown Court.
On June 21, 2021, authorities in Australia arrested the couple at their residence in Hanwell, London, after intercepting a significant cocaine shipment at Sydney airport that had originated from Heathrow. During the arrest, law enforcement seized a substantial amount of evidence, including £250,000 worth of gold bullion and keys to a safe deposit box containing £60,000 in cash.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) subsequently charged both Raizada and Dhir with one count of exporting cocaine to Australia and 12 counts of money laundering. The couple remains in custody as they await their trial.
Recently, on September 29, 2023, a pre-trial review was conducted at the Southwark Crown Court. The proceedings involved legal representatives for both the defendants and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). However, the defendants failed to appear in court due to procedural issues.
Chris Meredith, the barrister representing Raizada, expressed the intent to cross-examine NCA officers and emphasized that no substantial connection had been established between his client and those arrested in Australia. Additionally, Meredith requested further disclosure of documents from the NCA to adequately prepare for the impending trial.
Hugh French, acting on behalf of the CPS, raised concerns about the timing of the disclosure requests, as they were made just a month before the trial. French also pointed out that they had not been granted access to the defendants' electronic devices, as passcodes had not been provided. Meredith asserted that, given the criminal charges against the defendants, there was no obligation for them to assist the prosecution.
This is not the couple's first encounter with serious legal allegations. In the past, the couple faced extradition proceedings related to the adoption and subsequently plotting the murder of an 11-year-old boy named Gopal Sejani, an orphan from Gujarat. Raizada's father, residing in the same village as Gopal, had facilitated their adoption in 2015. The couple had taken out a wealth builder policy that included a life insurance benefit in the event of Gopal's death.
Extradition proceedings commenced in London in July 2017, initiated by India's request. In July 2019, the chief magistrate discharged the couple, acknowledging the existence of a prima facie case against them. The defense argued that if convicted in India, the couple would face life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, violating their human rights. India offered assurances of parole, but the court received these assurances just 45 minutes before the judgment deadline, leading to their rejection.
Judge Arbuthnot noted that since the planning for the crime occurred in London, the couple could potentially face charges in the UK. Although the CPS filed an appeal, the high court in London upheld the couple's discharge in February 2020, affirming the lower court's decision. Subsequently, Raizada and Dhir were set free.
Raizada initially arrived in the UK as a student and later became a tenant in Dhir's Hanwell residence. The couple married in 2013 and worked together at Worldwide Freight Services in Heathrow until their dismissal in 2016 due to a breach of contract. Their legal saga continues, with the upcoming trial holding the key to their fate.