Kerala gold case accused remanded to custody

V Sajeev Kumar/Vinson Kurian Kochi/Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on July 13, 2020

A Special Judge of the NIA (National Investigation Agency), Kochi, on Monday remanded to custody Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair, the second and fourth accused in the gold smuggling case, till July 21 after their Covid-19 diagnostic tests proved negative.

A First Information Report in the case notes that initial enquiries have revealed that the proceeds of the smuggled gold could be used for financing terrorism in India. It said that the Customs (Preventive) Commissionerate, Kochi, had seized 30 kg of 24 karat gold worth ₹14.82 crore at the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport on July 5.

Gravity of offence

The consignment was camouflaged in diplomatic baggage from the UAE that is exempted from inspection as per the Vienna Convention. It was to be received by PS Sarith, who had worked at the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram earlier as Public Relations Officer.

The Ministry of Home Affairs on July 9 directed the NIA to take up the investigation given ‘the gravity of the offence and national and international linkages.’ The case pertained to suspected conspiracy and commission of a terrorist act by raising funds through gold smuggling to threaten the country’s economic security and monetary stability.

C Radhakrishna Pillai, Deputy Superintendent of Police, NIA, Kochi, will be the Chief Investigation Officer. The NIA has already slapped Sections 16 and 17 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) on the accused. These Sections deal with punishment for terrorist acts, sources said.

Terrorism charge Vs economic offence

The Special Court may exercise its jurisdiction only on the basis of a body of evidence to show that a terrorist act had been committed or was intended to have been committed. Offences charged against the accused would hold only if the act was committed with intent to threaten the economic security of the country.

Lack of such evidence would change the complexion of the case, which would henceforth be considered only as an economic offence, in which case the NIA court may not have jurisdiction to try it, the sources added.

Fresh contraband seized

Meanwhile, on Monday, the same Thiruvananthapuram Airport that hit national headlines with the seizure of 30 kg of contraband gold and is currently being inquired into by the NIA, threw up another surprise with a fresh seizure of 1.45 kg of gold.

The contraband was recovered from three passengers from Dubai and belonging to Tamil Nadu, official sources said here. The contraband was hidden in their waist band and innerwear. Customs officials are inquiring into the links and antecedents of the passengers.

Separately, a smaller but a contextually significant seizure of the yellow metal worth ₹1.25 crore was reported the same morning from the Kannur International Airport. Six passengers belonging to Kozhikode and a seventh from Kasaragod were detained here with the contraband woven into the waist band of their jeans.

Published on July 13, 2020

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