The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the Delhi High Court order granting bail to Kashmiri businessman Zahoor Ahmad Shah Watali, who was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on terror-funding charges.
A bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud stayed the order after Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the probe agency, submitted that the charges against the accused were serious and needed the top court’s intervention.
The NIA has accused Watali of being a “fundraiser” and “a conduit to finance terrorism in the State of Jammu & Kashmir”.
According to the agency, he “received money from Hafiz Saeed… and sources from Pakistan (received through Pakistan High Commission), and the money was remitted to the Hurriyat leaders, separatists, and stone pelters in the State of Jammu and Kashmir to further their Secessionist Agenda”. Documents seized from the house of his cashier, Ghulam Mohd Bhat, also showed transfer of funds between Watali and other accused, the NIA claimed.
Watali’s bail plea was rejected by the NIA court on June 8 this year. However, in a strongly worded order on Thursday, the Delhi High Court division bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel said, “The documents (seized in the case) do not enable this court to prima facie conclude, as the trial court has in its order stated, that appellant (Watali) received money from A-1 (LeT chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed) or PHC (Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi) or others and was passing on the said funds to the Hurriyat leaders for funding terrorist activities and stone pelting.”
The NIA challenged this in the apex court, saying the order was “self-contradictory” and that the “High Court has arrived at perverse finding on facts, and while doing so has lost sight of the seriousness and gravity of the crimes committed by the respondent along with the other accused persons, which are against the State involving anti-national activities prejudicial to the safety, security and sovereignty of the Republic of India”.
The agency said the court “has proceeded in a mechanical manner to grant bail” to Watali.
The NIA submitted that in the facts and circumstances of the case, releasing Watali on bail “poses a serious threat to the society and is prejudicial to the country”. It said there was “imminent danger and real threat that he may not only abscond by misusing the bail notwithstanding the conditions imposed by the Hon’ble High Court, but there may be serious threat to the life and liberty of the prosecution witnesses, especially protected witnesses who have deposed during investigation and whose statements recorded under Section 164 of the CrPC are held in sealed envelopes”.
The agency contended that “if the respondent is freed even for a short duration, there is every likelihood that the witness protection will be seriously compromised and respondent will flee from justice and evade the clutches of law”.
The agency sought to contradict the High Court’s finding that the evidence does not establish prima facie offence against Watali, saying “there is plethora of evidence, both oral and documentary, to establish all the charge(s)” and that “the evidence collected during the investigation and which have been highlighted in the charge sheet filed before the trial court establishes much more than a prima facie case”.
The apex court will hear the matter on September 26.