THE DIRECTORATE of Revenue Intelligence’s appeal against allowing alleged antique smuggler Vijay Nanda to travel abroad has been dismissed by the sessions court. On June 16, an additional chief metropolitan magistrate had passed an order allowing Nanda, an India-born US citizen to travel abroad for a period of 12 weeks. The DRI, however, had filed a revision against the order, stating that since Nanda is a US citizen, he may not return to India and ‘flee from justice’.
The intelligence officer of DRI in his appeal sought for the order to be set aside and quashed. Nanda was arrested on February 7 from his residence in Girgaum Chowpatty in South Mumbai in connection with smuggling of antiques and artefacts to the US, Europe and Hong Kong under the Customs Act, 1962, the DRI had claimed. The DRI claimed in its appeal that Nanda was “actively involved” in smuggling of antiquities and 35 pieces of stone, terracotta and bronze had been recovered from his premises.
“Granting permission to the accused to travel abroad will result in complete failure of investigation,” the DRI had claimed. Nanda opposed the revision claiming that the magistrate’s order was “legal and proper”. While Nanda was released on bail in April, he made an application before the magistrate’s court submitting that his wife needed to undergo a surgery and he had to be there with her and his teenaged children. The court had then directed the DRI to hand over his passport for his travel to the USA for a period of 12 weeks.
The court had also directed Nanda to remain present before the DRI office after returning on September 17 and he had been asked to redeposit his passport. “It transpires that the accused was arrested under Section 10 of the Customs Act. From his premises, 35 pieces of antiquities have been recovered. Undoubtedly, he has certificate issued by the Archaeological Survey of India as regards to 25 antiquities. He has displayed antiquities in the Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai, for continuous period of five years,” the additional sessions judge observed, while dismissing DRI’s appeal.
The judge added “mere apprehension” cannot be the reason to curtail his liberty. “It is not that the allegations against the accused were that he was caught red-handed smuggling antiquities or consignment of antiquities were seized. The seized antiquities are now with the DRI, Mumbai. There is nothing to say that he has not been co-operative during investigation,” the court said. During the arrest, the DRI had claimed that Nanda was allegedly part of an “international art smuggling syndicate”, and he used to arrange auctions and subsequent sale in the US and Hong King to private collections and museums.