Kochi: The bail pleas of Swapna Suresh and seven other accused in the diplomatic gold smuggling case under the National Investigation Agency (NIA) were approved by the Kerala High Court on Tuesday.
With this, Swapna will now be able to walk out of the prison after 14 months.
The court said that prima facie it did not find that they committed any terrorist act as alleged against them.
A Division Bench of Justices K Vinod Chandran and C Jayachandran also granted bail to other accused P S Sarith, Mohammed Shafi P, A M Jalal, Rabins Hameed, Ramees K T, Sharafudeen K T, and Mohammad Ali.
The bench said the facts of the case narrated before it and the charges alleged against the accused "do not commend us to find the accused having any connection with any terrorist act" as provided under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
The court also said that it does not find that the actions of the accused were a threat to the economic security of the country, since there was no counterfeiting of high quality notes and coins.
The bench also said there was "no question" of distinguishing those granted bail in the case earlier as "back runners" and the present 8 accused as front runners, which was one of the contentions of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) while opposing grant of any relief to them.
"..there is no question of distinguishing the various accused arrayed as front-runners or back-runners. Whatever be the role of the accused, the activity being smuggling of gold, which cannot be deemed to be a terrorist act under section 15 of the UAPA," the court said.
The court granted bail to the eight accused subject to them furnishing a bond of Rs 25 lakh each with two solvent sureties each for the like amount.
The other conditions imposed by the bench included that the accused deposit their passports with the special Court without whose permission they shall not leave Kerala, they shall not contact the witnesses or tamper with the evidence, they shall not commit any offence while on bail and they shall appear before the local SHO on every Sunday between 10am and 11am.
Advocate Sooraj T Elenjickal, who represented Suresh, said with 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.
This may not be true for the other accused in the gold smuggling case, the lawyer said.NIA had earlier, while opposing their bail pleas, told the high court that Suresh and others committed a terrorist act by smuggling 167 kg of gold into India from UAE between November 2019 to June 2020 as they knew that doing so would threaten the security and economic stability of the country.
The agency had also told the high court that Suresh and others, involved in the smuggling of gold through diplomatic channels, were also aware that their actions would damage India's relations with UAE and therefore, the offences under the UAPA for terrorist act, conspiracy and being part of a terror organisation are made out.
The story so far
A multi-agency probe was initiated after the seizure of 30 kg of gold worth Rs 14.82 crore on July 5 last year from a diplomatic baggage at the air cargo of the Trivandrum International Airport by the Customs (Preventive) Commissionerate, Cochin.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which took over the probe on the directive of the Union Home Ministry, had stated that the proceeds of smuggling could be used to fund terror activities.
Key accused P S Sarith, Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair were subsequently arrested.
Swapna and Sarith who were former employees of the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram allegedly used their past connections to smuggle gold using the diplomatic channel.
While Sarith was arrested by the Customs, Swapna and Sandeep Nair were nabbed from Bengaluru by the NIA in September 2020.
Sivasankar, the former Principal Secretary to the Kerala Chief Minister, was also briefly under the scanner of the agency for his ties to Swapna.
In January, the National Investigation Agency had filed a charge-sheet against 20 people before a special court in Kochi for their alleged involvement in the smuggling. The accused were booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA.
The NIA investigation revealed that the accused had knowingly conspired since June 2019, raised funds and smuggled around 167 kg of gold into the country from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) between November 2019 and June 2020 through the import cargo addressed to diplomats at the Consulate General of the UAE in Thiruvananthapuram.
The main accused in the case had planned to smuggle more gold from countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. The consignment was found camouflaged in a diplomatic baggage from the UAE that is exempted from inspection in accordance with the Vienna Convention.
Later, the Enforcement Directorate initiated a probe into a money laundering angle.
The dollar smuggling case pertains to smuggling of 1.90 lakh US dollars carried out by UAE Consulate’s former finance department head Khalid Ali Shoukri with the help of Swapna and Sarith who are two of the accused in the gold smuggling case.
The COFEPOSA (Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling) charges against Swapna and Sandeep were dropped by the HC last month and Sandeep was released from jail.
(With PTI inputs.)