Customs fined ₹94 lakh for selling gold seized from Kenya national
The Delhi High Court has directed the customs department to pay ₹94 lakh to a Kenyan woman for selling off nearly four kilograms of gold seized from her even while the proceedings in the case were pending.
A bench of Justice S Muralidhar and Justice I S Mehta ordered the compensation be given to the woman by June 30, failing which the department will have to pay 6% simple interest per annum on the said sum for the period of delay.
The court’s decision comes while hearing the plea of the woman who had challenged an order passed by the commissioner of customs (airport and general) confiscating the seized gold and imposing ₹18 lakh penalty on her.
According to the woman, she had arrived at Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport from Nairobi on January 5, 2015 and was carrying the gold which she wanted to be used for making jewellery in India and then sell it in Kenya.
However, when she was exiting the “green channel” (There are two channels of customs clearance for arriving passengers; the green channel is where passengers not having any dutiable goods or other items for which declaration is not required), she was intercepted near the exit gate.
She was taken to a room and the gold was confiscated. Later, it was sold by the customs department.
When the gold was not returned to her and a show cause notice (SCN) was not issued, she filed a petition in the High Court in April 2018.
On May 17, when the court was informed that the proceeds collected during the auction were equal to the value of the gold, it directed the department to refund it to the Kenyan national.
The court also questioned the custom officials as to why they had disposed off the gold even when the metal was neither perishable nor hazardous.
“In the present case with the seized material not being perishable, being gold bars, there was no reason for the Respondents to have hurriedly disposed it off and that too without notice to the petitioner (woman),” it said.
Terming it to be unsustainable in law, the bench said that the woman was not given any notice before passing the order of imposing penalty on her as well as before selling off the gold.
The court noted that the authorities disclosed for the first time, its counter affidavit filed in February this year, that as per available records, the case property has been already disposed of but no details were given as to when the seized gold was disposed of.
The court also said that even the order imposing penalty on the woman was illegal as the Commissioner passed the same ex-parte without the SCN having been actually served.