Twelve years after their arrest, a magistrate court, on Friday, acquitted all 19 accused who had been booked for procuring fake passports for those who hijacked Indian Airlines flight IC-814 on December 24, 1999.
The police had arrested alleged terrorist Abdul Latif in December 1999, from Jogeshwari and recovered AK-56 rifles, hand grenades and rocket launchers from him. Latif had allegedly confessed to committing a bank robbery to finance the hijacking and also to providing fake passports. The police claimed to have seized various documents and papers concerning the financial transactions.
Following Latif's arrest, the crime branch arrested 22 more accused in the case in January 2000. The crime branch alleged that they had all played a role in providing logistical support to the hijackers.
Pending the trial, two of the 22 accused died while one was discharged for want of evidence. During the trial, the prosecution examined 28 witnesses, of which the court declared seven hostile.
During the trial, Latif's advocate Abdul Wahab Khan, who also represented the other accused, argued that Latif had already faced trial in the fake passport case in a sessions court at Patiala, which tried the main hijack case.
Hence, he pleaded, as he had already been tried for aiding and abetting, he could not be prosecuted for the same offence again. Here the principle of double jeopardy was violated, Khan contended.
Khan also argued that the Mumbai crime branch, who had arrested Latif, had deposed as witnesses in the Patiala court. Khan also argued that the prosecution had examined a handwriting expert who did not have clear credentials and was trapped by the anti-corruption officials and is facing trial.
Further, the court was shown that though the police claimed they had used certain vehicles to seize certain incriminating documents, the logbook of the vehicle showed that it was nowhere near the place from where the seizure was made. Khan also pointed out that one of the accused, a passport agent, was a witness in the Patiala court. The court, accepting Khan's arguments, acquitted all the accused.