Puneet Puneet is seemingly in no position to make demands, but that’s exactly what the learner driver who killed a Melbourne man is doing.
Puneet, 30, was studying in Melbourne when he hit and killed Dean Hofstee in 2008. 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 CBD.
Puneet pleaded guilty in a Melbourne court but, while on bail awaiting sentencing in 2009, used a friend’s passport to escape Australia to India. He was arrested on his wedding day in Punjab four years later.
“Accidents happen, it was not a rape or murder,” Puneet’s lawyer Kanhaiya Kumar Singhal said last year.
Puneet is back in court this week where drawn-out extradition hearings are continuing. And his lawyer is making demands.
The Associated Press reports Puneet’s lawyers have been in touch with Victoria’s Attorney General to declare Puneet will only return to Australia if prosecutors guarantee a maximum sentence of two years in jail.
While they have 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”.
“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.
Asked whether that could mean the extradition request might be dropped, Mr Singhal said: “Not dropped as that would technically be grounds for surrender. But opposing parties could well sit down and negotiate.”
Last week, in response to Mr Singhal’s request, Mr Jennings said 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 said.
In court, Mr Singhal reprised legal arguments according to extradition laws, including the absence of a motive in which he 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.
Last year his lawyers suggested he was not mentally competent to be the subject of an extradition decision.
In an Indian court, a judge stopped proceedings to ask: “What happened? Stand up Puneet! Stand up! What happened?”
Puneet, with a bandaged head, fell into his uncle’s arms and began crying hysterically, before he was removed from the courtroom. The judge then asked: “Who was making those sounds? Was that him?”
The defence has also previously argued Puneet suffers from kidney problems, schizophrenia, weight loss and at one point drank poison due to his fragile state of mind.
If he or his lawyers feel his mental state will not lead him into a safe environment, let him come forward so that we can verify this,” Bhaskar Valli, the 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 previously said Puneet needs to “accept his responsibilities” and “I want to see him brough back here and the matter sorted”.
Puneet is due to face court again in Delhi on August 13.