Invoking the UAPA Act, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Friday registered an FIR against four people in connection with the bid to smuggle 30 kg gold via diplomatic cargo addressed to the Consul-General of the UAE in Thiruvananthapuram.
The move comes a day after the Union Home Ministry allowed the NIA to take over the case.
Explaining why India’s premier counter-terror agency was probing a gold smuggling matter, the NIA said in a statement: “As the case pertains to smuggling of large quantity of gold into India from offshore locations threatening the economic stability and national security of the country, it amounts to a terrorist act as stated in section 15 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. Further, as the case has national and international linkages and as the initial enquiries have revealed that the proceeds of smuggled gold could be used for financing of terrorism in India, NIA has taken up the investigation of the case.”
The Indian Express had reported on Friday that the agency has never probed a smuggling case and such offences were not part of its schedule. It had also reported that the NIA would likely have to invoke the UAPA to register the case.
Kerala gold smuggling case explained| Diplomatic cargo, an absconding woman and a consulate under scanner
The NIA listed Sarith P S, former PRO with the Consulate office, as the first accused. Former consulate executive secretary Swapna Suresh, her friend Sandeep Nair and Sharjah-based Fazil Fareed, who had sent the consignment to the consulate, have also been named as accused, according to an NIA release.
“The aforesaid consignment was found camouflaged in diplomatic baggage from UAE that is exempted from inspection as per the Vienna Convention. The said consignment was to be received by Sarith P.S. who had worked in the UAE Consulate earlier as Public Relations Officer. Initial investigation by Customs Department has revealed that Sarith P.S. had received multiple such consignments earlier as well,” the NIA statement said.
The Customs department had on Sunday seized 30 kg gold from diplomatic cargo at Thiruvanathapuram airport. Diplomatic cargo enjoys immunity from inspection, but this consignment was confiscated based on specific inputs. Sarith, who had turned up to receive the consignment, was arrested. The case took a political turn when Sarith named Swapna Suresh, who worked in the state IT department. On July 6, the state government removed senior IAS officer M Sivasankar as principal secretary to the CM over his alleged role in hiring Suresh.
The High Court on Friday heard the anticipatory bail application of Suresh, who has been absconding since Sunday. Suresh claimed she was innocent, and that she only intervened with Customs to get the cargo addressed to Acting Consul-General Rashid Khamis Al Sheimeili. The incumbent Consul-General had returned to the UAE in April in the wake of Covid.
The Opposition in Kerala has been calling for a thorough probe in the matter. On Friday, youth workers of the Congress, BJP and IUML took out protest marches in all district headquarters, demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan over the gold smuggling case.
Vijayan had on Wednesday written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking an “effective and coordinated” investigation into the incident by central agencies.
The MHA on Thursday handed over the case from Customs to the NIA, considering its international ramifications.
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