Kerala high court grants bail to Swapna, 7 others in UAPA case
The Kerala high court on Tuesday granted bail to Swapna Suresh and seven others in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) case registered by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in connection with sensational gold smuggling.
A division bench of justices Vinod Chandran and C Jayachandran granted bail after several rounds of hearing. Besides Suresh, those getting bail in the case, include Mohammed Shafi P, Jalal AM, Rabins Hameed, Ramees KT, Sharafudeen KT, Sarith PS and Mohammed Ali.
While Suresh had earlier secured bail in cases registered by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Customs in connection with the gold smuggling earlier, she will be released after spending 15 months in prison. Suresh’s mother hailed the decision, saying, “She is innocent and I feel she was made a pawn by others.”
Advocate Sooraj T Elenjickal, who represented Suresh, said the grant of bail in the NIA case, she can come out of judicial custody as her preventive detention under the COFEPOSA (Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act) had been recently set aside by the high court.
The senior lawyer, however, added that this may not be true for the other accused in the gold smuggling case. The detailed order is yet to be made available.
NIA last year filed a charge sheet against 20 people under various sections of the UAPA saying proceeds from smuggling activities were diverted for anti-national activities.
Additional solicitor general SV Raju, who appeared for NIA, opposed their bail petitions, saying they were kingpins behind a thriving smuggling racket and charges against them were grave. However, counsels for the accused contended that in the charge sheet filed after the completion of investigation, there was no mention of terror funding or involvement of transnational forces.
The court relied upon an earlier observation of another bench in February that said mere act of gold smuggling, covered under the Customs Act, will not amount to a terrorist act under the provisions of the UAPA. The court also observed that smuggling was done for mere profit motive and that will not come under the ambit of the UAPA. Besides this, the trial in the case is not likely to begin in near future and they can’t remain in jail till then, the court said.
The sensational gold smuggling case came to light in July 2020 after the seizure of 30 kg gold hidden in bathroom fittings in one of the consignments camouflaged as diplomatic baggage of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) consulate in Thiruvananthapuram. The case was later handed over to NIA and it arrested Suresh and her accomplice Sandeep Nair from their hideout in Bengaluru.
Later, a multi-agency team headed by NIA started probing the case and 34 people were arrested. One of the alleged key funders of the smuggling racket, Rabins Hameed, was extradited from the UAE and another key suspect Faizal Fareed is still at large. The case invited enough embarrassment to the Left front government after the chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s principal secretary M Sivasankar, a senior IAS officer, was arrested by ED. He was later suspended before he secured bail from the high court.
Though five central agencies (NIA, ED, DRI, Customs and Income Tax) were probing the case, other than initial arrests, investigation failed to make much headway, officials of the central agencies admit. Main beneficiaries and dispatchers are still at large and some politicians whose names cropped up in the course of investigation also remain untouched.
The Union and state governments locked horns several times over the case and the latter even constituted a judicial commission against ED, a first of its sort, alleging bid to implicate many senior leaders including Vijayan in the case. However, the HC squashed the judicial commission.