The National Investigation Agency today filed a First Information Report against four accused in a case of gold smuggling through diplomatic channels. At least 30 kg gold under the name of the UAE consulate had reached Thiruvananthapuram, the Kerala High Court was told. The customs department in a statement said the NIA filed the case under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA “as the case pertains to smuggling of large quantity of gold into India… and it amounts to a terrorist act”.
The accused named in the case are Sarith, Swapna Prabha Suresh, Fazil Fareed and Sandeep Nair. The authorities had seized the large amount of gold worth Rs 14.82 crore at Trivandrum International Airport on July 5.
The centre opposed an anticipatory bail plea filed by Ms Suresh in the Kerala High Court.
Ms Suresh is a former employee of the UAE consulate and a former marketing officer of a firm linked to Kerala’s information technology department. The Chief Minister’s Office said her contract was terminated after the serious allegations surfaced.
The opposition has alleged the accused has links with the Chief Minister’s Office, which the state government has denied. An Indian Administrative Service officer has been removed from the Chief Minister’s Office and replaced as IT secretary amid protests by the opposition.
“From the evidence gathered so far it appears that Ms Swapna Suresh is a pivotal member of a gang engaged in smuggling of large quantities of gold to India by defrauding government agencies and customs department by using the cover of diplomatic protection and further she has conspired and actively participated to facilitate the act of smuggling,” the customs department said in a report submitted to the court.
The customs alleged that officials started checking the baggage at 1 pm on July 5 and Ms Suresh switched off her phone by 3.15 pm. The report said she is on the run and is avoiding summons to evade the probe.
According to the customs, another accused, Sarith, had a clear method of running the fraud including taking cash payment, instead of the routine consulate practice. He would take deliveries of contraband cargo himself, instead of deliveries through vehicles.
The wife of another accused, Sandeep Nair, who is also on the run, has said her husband used to “smuggle gold with the help of Sarith and Swapna”. She alleged they would do so for other gangs as well. “Ms Swapna would arrange papers for getting cargo of the consulate cleared from the air cargo complex,” Mr Nair’s wife has said.
“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 customs said in the report.
Ms Suresh in her plea for protection from arrest denied she was involved in smuggling. She said she “checked on the cargo with customs on instructions from the Acting Consulate General at the UAE mission in Kerala”.
The Kerala Students’ Union affiliated to the Congress, the Muslim Youth League associated with IUML and the Yuva Morcha of the BJP held protests against the case in different parts of the state today.