Kochi: In a decisive move regarding the diplomatic gold smuggling case, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has decided to protect 10 witnesses and keep their identity under wraps as they are likely to face threats over disclosing sensitive information. Any action that help in identifying them have been barred legally.
The NIA sought the court's permission to invoke the provision of imprisonment up to three years and impose fine against anyone who discloses information about them. The name, address, copies of the statements of these protected witnesses would not be available for the counsel of the opposite party as in other cases. However, the counsels of the accused would be allowed to hear them being examined by the prosecution. After that the counsel for the accused can cross-examine them behind a curtain.
The decision to make the 10 persons protected witnesses and cross-examine them comes close on the heels of the investigation agency’s move to start trial by turning five accused in the case including Sandeep Nair as approvers.
The NIA sought legal backing for providing security to the 10 protected witnesses considering the risks faced by them after disclosing crucial information about the utilisation of money from gold smuggling for anti-national activities. There were also reports from central intelligence agencies regarding the threat to their lives.
Two rules invoked
The investigation team has invoked two rules for ensuring the protection of the witnesses in the gold smuggling case. The NIA Act's Section 17 and UAPA Act's Section 44 entail provisions for ensuring protection of witnesses even after the completion of trial proceedings. The witnesses can directly utilise these sections while investigation officials or trial courts can suo motu invoke them to protect the witnesses. Anyone who discloses any information about the protected witnesses in violation of the law, is liable to imprisonment and fine.
Remand period extended
The remand period of gold smuggling case accused M Sivasankar, K T Rameez, Swapna Suresh, P S Sarith, Sandeep Nair, A M Jalal and Mohammad Shafi have been extended for 14 days.
The Economic Offences trial court accepted the argument of the Customs that granting bail to the accused who have high connections at this stage would adversely affect the investigations.
The petition filed by M Sivasankar stating that he is entitled to natural bail in the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) case in connection with gold smuggling, will be taken up by Ernakulam Principal Sessions Court on Tuesday.
Sivasankar had filed the petition pointing out that the Enforcement Directorate while filing the chargesheet against an IAS officer like him did not seek the prior permission for prosecution from the state government.