Kerala gold smuggling case: SC admits NIA appeal, bail to 12 accused stays
The NIA began its probe into the Kerala gold smuggling case after the Customs Department seized 30 kilograms of 24 carat gold from Thiruvananthapuram airport on July 5, 2020.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to set aside the bail granted to 12 accused in the Kerala gold smuggling case but agreed to examine whether smuggling of gold amounts to a terrorist act under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967.
The Union of India represented through the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had challenged a February 18, 2021 order of the Kerala High Court which released the 12 accused on bail while holding that “gold smuggling with a mere illegal profit motive” could not fall within the definition of a terrorist act as defined under Section 15(1)(a)(iiia) of the UA(P) Act .
The above section of the 1967 act defines smuggling of high-quality counterfeit Indian paper currency, coin or of any other material with intent to threaten or likely to threaten the economic security of the country as a “terrorist act”, which is not bailable.
The Kerala high court held that the expression “any other material” will not include gold. At the same time, the high court allowed NIA to seek cancellation of bail if it succeeds in digging out material to show complicity of the accused in a terrorist act.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana issued notice on Centre’s appeal stating that the only question to be considered is the question of law arising out of the HC order. The bench was not inclined to interfere with the bail granted to the 12 accused.
Additional solicitor general (ASG) KM Nataraj appearing for NIA submitted that the Kerala HC’s conclusion that smuggling of gold does not amount to terrorist act will seriously impact pending cases probed by NIA and other central agencies.
He pointed out a judgment given on February 1 this year by the Rajasthan high court which upheld charges under UA(P) Act against a man caught for smuggling more than 18 kilograms of gold. This order was later challenged by the accused before the Supreme Court and is still pending consideration.
The bench directed the present appeal of NIA to be listed along with the pending appeal against the Rajasthan HC order.
The NIA began its probe into the Kerala gold smuggling case after the Customs Department seized 30 kilograms of 24 carat gold from Thiruvananthapuram airport on July 5, 2020, concealed within a diplomatic baggage sent from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Further probe led to arrest of the then principal secretary to Kerala chief minister among others. The 12 accused granted bail by the high court had allegedly arranged funds for smuggling gold through diplomatic channels or conspired together for arranging the same.
The NIA had booked the accused under the UA(P) Act claiming the initial inquiry had revealed that the proceeds of the smuggled gold could have been used for financing terrorist activities in India.
The Special NIA court granted bail to the accused on October 15 last year. This order came to be upheld by the Kerala high court. The accused had questioned the power of NIA to investigate the case relating to smuggling which is punishable under Section 135 of the Customs Act of 1962.