While the NIA has registered an FIR against four key accused in connection with the bid to smuggle 30 kg gold via diplomatic cargo addressed to the Consul-General of the UAE in Thiruvananthapuram, the question remains on how the entire conspiracy hatched between the four.
The NIA, which had taken over the case on Friday, registered the FIR under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against Sarith, Swapna Prabha Suresh, Fazil Fareed and Sandeep Nair.
Now, CNN-News18 has learnt that the UAE Charge d Affairs, Rashid Khanis Ali Masaiqri Al Ashmia, wanted exemption on his imported goods and visited the Air Cargo Complex in Thiruvananthapuram on July 5 for the same. He submitted an invoice of personal food items such as dates, milk and Maggi with NOC from UAE in India.
But much to the shock of Indian authorities, apart from nine identified food items, there were seven unidentified items, including two China-made pistols and a set of wire and portable compressor, which Rashid allegedly refused to accept and identify as his own.
He accepted only the food items and the bill of entry was modified and the rest of the items were left with Indian Customs for identification with the help of mechanic and gold assayer as the customs felt gold is concealed in articles other than food items.
After a detail examination, 30kg gold worth Rs14.83 crore was found in those items.
Rashid pointed the finger at Sarith, former PRO in consulate who used to help in clearing goods but is no longer his employee, and shared contact details and mobile number of Sarith.
Rashid categorically said that other than food items, the government of India can take action, including on gold.
This gold item was packed and sealed in the box with a written warning of ‘Fragile’.
Sarith was asked to join the investigation on July 6 for bringing the gold consignment to India. He told Indian authorities that the Consular Charge de Affair had no knowledge of the diplomatic cargo that was brought to India. Sarith said he used to place the order with Fazil, who runs a provisional shop in UAE and supplies and forwards all diplomatic cargos.
In case of cargos meant for consulate having UAE registration, including contraband, were received by Sarith himself, he told the investigative officers. An examination of his phone revealed that he deleted the data of his phone and wanted to destroy evidence.
On his arrest, his told authorities about the role of Swapana who was on the request employee of USE Consulate and was involved with him as she used to bring consulate cars.
He further told Investigators that Swapana used to get NOC and official letter from Emirati Charge d Affair. During this Sarith used to receive gold and sell to one Sandeep Nair who is also under NIA custody.
Investigation agencies are finding out if any major conspiracy was involved and if this was a case of terror financing and waging a war against India. The agencies maintain that this is not a simple case of personal gain.
Officials said that the smuggled cargo was earlier being transported in regular flights, and it only came on the radar of the investigative agency when the smuggling was done through chartered flights because of the coronavirus lockdown.
The FIR has been filed under the stringent UAPA act, and lists offences under conspiracy and commission of terrorist act by raising funds through gold smuggling to threaten the economic security and monetary stability of India.
According to the agency, 30 kg of 24 karat gold worth Rs 14.82 crore was seized at the international airport in Thiruvananthapuram last Sunday. This consignment was camouflaged in diplomatic baggage from UAE that is exempted from inspection, but this consignment was confiscated based on specific inputs. Sarith, who had turned up to receive the consignment, was arrested.
Swapna Suresh and another accused Sandeep Nair have been taken from Bengaluru to Kerala on Sunday. The customs has taken into custody another person from Malappuram related to this case, and sources in the customs department say they have some evidence of their involvement in this case and that he needs to be questioned.