"We searched everywhere but couldn't find Puneet"
A hit-and-run driver who fled to India after killing a student in a drunken crash has gone missing days before his extradition to Australia.
Puneet Puneet fled to New Delhi using a friend’s passport while on bail before he could be sentenced for the 2008 death of Queensland student Dean Hofstee in Melbourne.
The learner driver, then 19, had been drunkenly speeding along City Road in Melbourne’s Southbank when he hit Mr Hofstee and friend Clancy Cloker before crashing into a lampost.
Puneet fled but was later caught and found to have a blood alcohol reading of 0.165. Police estimate he was driving at 90 mph.
Puneet claimed he was not driving that fast and had swerved to avoid a cat.
The hit-and-run driver pleaded guilty to culpable driving and was awaiting sentence in 2009 when he absconded on a passport borrowed from a friend.
He was arrested in India in 2013 and the authorities have been fighting for his extradition to Australia, however, the case has seen delays.
Puneet was set to finally face justice but he has now gone missing.
He was set to appear in court for one of the final hearings before his extradition on June 22, 2020, but he has not been seen for a week.
His father, Naresh Kumar, said: “My son is facing an extradition hearing in Delhi Court for an unfortunate accident in Australia.
“We searched everywhere but couldn’t find Puneet, so we are seeking police help to trace him.”
Mr Kumar added that his son is “mentally depressed” and that a married woman with whom he has been having an affair should be questioned about his whereabouts.
Police inspector Joginder Singh said the disappearance was being investigated, while his defence lawyer Kanhaiya Kumar Singhal said it was concerning.
Mr Singhal said: “His father called me and informed (me of) this.
“It is a matter of concern. I hope right sense prevails and he returns.”
The hit-and-run driver was arrested in 2013 on his wedding day. Since then, he has been fighting his extradition in numerous court hearings.
The delays in India were partly caused by the frequent absences and delaying tactics of Mr Singhal.
Mr Singhal was absent at a March 2020 hearing and members of his team told Justice Navjeet Budhiraja the lawyer was unwell and unable to conclude his final arguments.
A member of the prosecution team interjected to cast doubt on this claim by saying he saw Singhal in Delhi High Court a short while earlier looking perfectly well.
The prosecution has accused Singhal of deliberately delaying the trial, either by claiming to be ill or by making far-fetched claims about the state of Puneet’s physical or mental health.
Doctors who examined Puneet have told the court he is fit to be extradited.
Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said that she was making “urgent” representations to the Commonwealth Government and other authorities to ensure the extradition proceeds.
She said: “We will continue to work closely with them and relevant authorities to ensure Puneet is found and extradited back to Victoria as quickly as possible.
“Mr Puneet needs to return to Victoria to face the consequences of his actions, and we won’t rest until justice is served.”
A spokesman for Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter said the federal government also remained committed to securing the extradition.