Kerala gold smuggling case: No evidence of funding terrorism, says HC; grants bail to Swapna Suresh, 7 others
Case gained political significance after IAS Officer M Sivasankar, Secretary, Information Technology, to CM Pinarayi Vijayan, was quizzed in connection with it. He was subsequently removed from post
The Kerala High Court has granted bail to Swapna Suresh, the prime accused in the gold smuggling case. She and seven others were booked under the Unlawful (Activities) Prevention Act (UAPA) by the National Investigation Agency.
A division bench of Justices K Vinod Chandran and C Jayachandran passed the verdict while allowing the appeals filed by the accused against the Ernakulam NIA Special Court's order rejecting their pleas for bail in the case.
The Kerala High Court had earlier set aside the detention of Swapna Suresh under COFEPOSA (Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling) charges.
Sarith PS, Mohammed Shafi P, Jalal AM, Rabins Hammed, Ramees KT, Sharafudeen K, and Mohammed Ali are the other accused who got bail.
Suresh’s counsel Sooraj T Elenjickal had argued that there is no evidence of terror funding against Suresh and hence the case does not attract provisions of the UAPA. He underscored that the NIA’s chargesheet did not mention involvement of transnational forces and financing of terrorism charges as was alleged during the inquiry. In fact, the chargesheet did not make out an offence under the UAPA. The charge sheet had alleged only the offence for gold smuggling which was punishable under the Customs Act, he argued.
The case involves the seizure of gold worth Rs 15 crore from diplomatic baggage in July last year. Customs officials had found the gold during the inspection of an air cargo consignment addressed to the Consular General of the United Arab Emirates in Thiruvananthapuram.
Two former employees of the consulate – Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair – were found to be involved in the smuggling and were arrested by NIA from Bengaluru on July 11, 2020.
During the hearing, the NIA claimed that Suresh had requisite knowledge and intention to hurt the economic security of the country. The agency alleged that she had formed a terrorist gang, raised funds and smuggled gold from the United Arab Emirates in large quantities through a diplomatic channel.
The chargesheet filed by the NIA against 20 accused persons including Sarith PS, Swapna Suresh, Ramees KT, Jalal AM, Mohammed Shafi P, Saidalavi E, and Abdu PT maintained that the accused had knowingly conspired since June 2019, raised funds and smuggled from UAE, between November 2019 and June 2020, around 167 kgs of gold, through the import cargo addressed to diplomats at the Consulate General of UAE in Thiruvananthapuram.
The chargesheet filed after the conclusion of the investigation had ruled out the possibility of financing terrorism and the involvement of the transnational forces. Besides, the trial in the case was unlikely to commence in the near future.
The case had gained political significance after IAS Officer M Sivasankar, Secretary, Information Technology, to chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, was quizzed in connection with it. He was subsequently removed from the post.