Centre opposes bail for Kerala gold smuggling accused; hearing adjourned

WION Chennai Jul 10, 2020, 07.43 PM(IST) Written By: Sidharth MP

Gold bars Photograph:( AFP )

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The Central government counsel, Mr. Ravi Prakash maintained that, under Section 21 of the NIA Act, the High Court has no original jurisdiction to consider the anticipatory bail application

The Central government’s counsel informed the Kerala High Court on Friday, that the bail application filed by Swapna Suresh, the main accused in the Kerala gold smuggling case is not maintainable. This was owing to the NationalAgency(NIA) having taken over the probe. 

The bench verbally agreed with the counsel’s submission and adjourned the hearing to Tuesday. The court has also agreed to provide the FIR copy (filed by the NIA) to Swapna’s advocate.  

The Central government counsel, Mr. Ravi Prakash maintained that, under Section 21 of the NIA Act, the High Court has no original jurisdiction to consider the anticipatory bail application, adding that it can only be considered by the Special Court. 

He further stated that the custodial interrogation of Swapna Suresh had to be conducted to establish her involvement and motive in the delivery of the diplomatic cargo. 

The NIA informed the Court of having filed an FIR and that their investigation is underway as per Sections 16, 17, &18 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). 

The Central government lawyer informed the court that even if the bail was was to be considered, this case had serious implications and that the nature of crime affected the security, financial stability of the country. 

Swapna Suresh’s bail plea that was filed earlier this week stated that she was working with the UAE Consulate general office from 2016-19 and that she had completed many assignments there, successfully. Following her resignation from there in 2019, she worked as a contract staff in PWC, which dealt with the Space park projects that came under Kerala government’s IT Department.

It added that the Consulate General of UAE in Thiruvananthapuram had again sought her assistance in administrative matters due to her experience in the same. The plea states that she worked with the Consulate under a “Work on request” basis, as a part of which she had checked with Customs regarding the delay of the Consignment. 

The plea stated that “she was innocent, had not committed any criminal offenses as alleged and had no connection with respect to the smuggled gold”. 

How the case progressed through the week

On Sunday, the Customs at the Thiruvananthapuram airport seized 30kg of gold, valued at nearly Rs.15crore, in a diplomatic cargo addressed to the UAE Consulate in the capital city. The cardboard carton weighing 79kg had contained foodstuffs and what was said to be “articles other than foodstuffs”. On closer examination and dismantling, it was found that the “articles other than foodstuffs” had gold concealed in them. 

As per the remand request filed before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, the Charge d’Affairs of the UAE Consulate affirmed that his family had sent the list of nine items that were mentioned as food stuffs. He also confirmed that he had no relation with the items that are mentioned as “articles other than foodstuffs”.

Customs Officials registered a case pertaining to the illegal import of gold and also arrested Sarith, a former PRO of the UAE Consulate. 

Opposition leaders alleged that the Kerala Chief Minister’s Office was connected to the case and that the CM’s Principal Secretary was in touch with Swapna Suresh and also behind her appointment in the Space Park job. This led to the CM’s Principal Secretary, Sivasankar being sent on one year leave. 

According to reports, Sivasankar had been embroiled in another controversy recently, after he initiated an agreement with an American firm, Sprinklr to share details of COVID-19 patients and suspects, without the knowledge of CM and the cabinet.

Following the political storm and serious allegations that rocked the state government, the Kerala chief minister wrote to the Prime Minister and Finance Minister seeking a probe by the concerned Central agencies. 

On Thursday, the Home Ministry permitted the NIA to take over the probe on the grounds that “organized smuggling operation may have serious implications for national security”.