Shalini Singh, Bharat Times

New Delhi, July 16: Puneet Puneet who jumped bail and ran away to India in 2008 in a hit and run case, is making demands while being fully cognizant of his situation that he was in no such position to do so.  He killed Dean Hofstee and injured another in the accident and then ran away to India changing his passport with a friend. The then 19-year-old was driving 150km/h and had a blood alcohol reading of 0.165 when he lost control of his car and crashed in the Melbourne CBD.

After a sustained and vigorous effort by the Australian government to track him down, he was nabbed by the Indian authorities while in the process of getting married in a hotel in Panipat near New Delhi India in 2013.

Ever since, Puneet Puneet has been trying to fight the extradition to Australia, on various grounds, mainly health, racism, unfair treatment in Australia and so on.

In court last year, his lawyer argued:

 “Accidents happen, it was not a rape or murder,” Puneet’s lawyer Kanhaiya Kumar Singhal said.

Late last year Judge Gurmohina Kaur showed some urgency and wanted to press ahead with the case. But Puneet’s lawyer cited medical reasons including mental incapacity to face extradition proceedings.

Kanhaiya Kumar Singhal Puneet Puneet’s lawyer, on various occasions had claimed in court that Puneet is schizophrenic, suicidal, mentally disturbed and has serious kidney problems and other ailments, forcing Justice Kaur’s hand to order the examination by a panel of doctors at the Institute of Human Behaviour and Applied Sciences in New Delhi.

Back in October 2018, they, after examining Puneet, concluded that he was mentally sound to face court.

When on November 5, the case came up in court, having read the report, Justice Gurmohina Kaur said: “The doctors say he is able to take care of himself and that there is no reason why he is not fit to stand trial as he has no mental disability.”

Despite that, the case is still dragging on. And Puneet is back in court this week where this six year long, drawn-out extradition hearings are continuing.

According to the Associated Press, Puneet’s lawyer Kanahiya Kumar Singhal, his team has been in touch with Victoria’s Attorney General to stipulate that Puneet will only return to Australia if prosecutors guarantee a maximum sentence of two years in jail.

While Puneet’s defence team has not yet received an official response from Victoria’s Acting Attorney-General Gavin Jennings or the federal government, Mr Singhal said they knew the offer was being “discussed”.

Last week, in response to Mr Singhal’s request, Mr Jennings had confirmed Victoria’s courts would decide on the appropriate punishment.

“Puneet Puneet needs to return to Victoria to face the consequences of his actions, and we won’t rest until justice is served,” he had said.Puneet’s lawyer is hopeful in the absence of an official “no” from the Victorian government.

“It will take a matter of time, but we know there are discussions in Australia,” Mr Singhal told reporters outside a Delhi court on Monday July 15.

Could the extradition request be dropped?  Mr Singhal responded: “Not dropped as that would technically be grounds for surrender. But opposing parties could well sit down and negotiate.”

Absence of motive:
Running the legal arguments according to extradition laws, including the absence of a motive, Puneet’s lawyer claimed his client was effectively being tried for murder, rather than a drink-driving accident.

“Even a terrorist has a motive when he blows something up,” said Mr Singhal.

“Though maybe I should not be quoted as saying that as the media is here.

“But the point is my client did not have any motive or forethought to make this a culpable homicide as opposed to a tragic accident.”

Puneet’s defence has delayed proceedings multiple times in the case, which has dragged on for nearly four years through the Indian courts. They have  also previously argued Puneet suffers from kidney problems, schizophrenia, weight loss and at one point drank poison due to his fragile state of mind.

Prosecuting the extradition case, Bhaskar Valli, advocate for the Union of India said, “This is not a man of good intent or bona fide character”, he added, referring to Puneet’s actions in fleeing from Australia nine years ago.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has been outspoken about the need for Puneet to return to Australia to face justice.

“The fact that he in a cowardly act, scarpered, ran away from facing the consequences of his actions, speaks volumes for his character,” Mr Andrews said last year.

“I think everybody across Victoria would be pleased to see him sent back to do the jail time that he should do right here.”

Mr Hofstee’s father Peter has said Puneet needs to accept his responsibilities and  would like to see him brought back to Australia to face justice system here.

Puneet will be back in court again on August 13.

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