The Supreme Court on Tuesday set aside a Delhi High Court order granting bail to Jammu and Kashmir businessman Zahoor Ahmad Shah Watali, arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on charges of terror funding.
Watali’s bail plea was rejected by the Special Court (NIA), New Delhi on June 8, 2018, but on appeal, the Delhi HC reversed this on September 13, 2018.
Disagreeing with the HC order, the Supreme Court bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and Ajay Rastogi ruled that the trial court “had rightly rejected the bail application after adverting to the relevant material/evidence indicative of the fact that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the accusation against the respondent is prima facie true”.
The Designated Court, it pointed out, had opined that “there are serious allegations against…Watali of being involved in unlawful acts and terror funding in conspiracy with other accused persons; that he had acted as a conduit for transfer of funds received from terrorist Accused No.1 Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, ISI, Pakistan High Commission, New Delhi and also from a source in Dubai, to Hurriyat leaders/secessionists/terrorists; and had helped them in waging war against the Government of India by repeated attacks on security forces and Government establishments and by damaging public property including by burning schools etc.”
The NIA court had also “noted that the accusation against” Watali “was of being a part of a larger conspiracy to systematically upturn the establishment to cause secession of J&K from the Union of India”.
Watali was arrested on August 17, 2017 and had been in judicial custody since then.
The High Court Bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel had concluded that the documents relied upon by NIA did not persuade it to prima facie conclude that the respondent received money from Saeed or the Pakistan High Commission or others, and was passing it on to the Hurriyat leaders for funding terrorist activities and stone-pelting.
The High Court also said that the order passed by the Designated Court was cryptic and unsustainable both on facts and in law.
The NIA challenged this before the Supreme Court, contending that the HC had “virtually conducted a mini trial and even questioned the genuineness of the documents relied upon” by it.
The HC, the agency said, had found fault with the NIA for not naming any official from the High Commission of Pakistan as accused or recording their statements as witnesses.
“In so observing, the High Court clearly overlooked the fact that the officials of the High Commission are accorded diplomatic immunity,” it said.