In a new twist to the Kerala gold smuggling controversy, the Centre has informed the Kerala High Court that a new FIR in the case against main accused Swapna Suresh includes an allegation of ‘raising funds for terrorist activities’ under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, LiveLaw has reported.
The lawyer representing the Centre informed the high court of this development on Friday, 10 July, during a hearing on Suresh’s application for anticipatory bail. The new FIR in the case, which includes the UAPA charge, was filed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
The NIA was authorised to investigate the case by the Centre on Thursday, 9 July, a day after Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking for an “effective and coordinated investigation” by central agencies into the matter.
THE CONTROVERSY AND SWAPNA SURESH’S INVOLVEMENT
The scandal arose after around 30 kg of gold was seized by customs officials at Thiruvananthapuram from diplomatic baggage, addressed to an official at the UAE consulate in the city. A former employee of the consulate, Sarith Nair was arrested when he tried to pick up the baggage using a false ID.
During Sarith’s interrogation, he informed the customs officials that another former consulate employee, Swapna Suresh was involved in the smuggling operation, along with another person named Sandeep Nair. Sandeep Nair’s wife also alleged Swapna’s involvement in her statement to the customs officials.
Suresh has argued in her bail application that even though she is no longer an employee of the UAE Consulate, she still does work for them on request. She claims she has emails from officials at the Consulate showing that she was only involved in trying to access the diplomatic cargo at the request of an official from the Consulate.
Suresh was recently appointed to be part of a project under the Kerala IT Department. The Kerala IT Secretary who reportedly approved her appointment, M Sivasankar, was also the Secretary of the Kerala CMO (till he was removed on Tuesday) – this has created a political dimension to the case as well.
THE HEARING IN THE KERALA HIGH COURT
During the hearing on Friday, the Centre’s counsel contested Suresh’s application for anticipatory bail, saying that firstly, because the case had been transferred to the NIA, the high court no longer had jurisdiction to hear the case – the special NIA court was now where it had to be dealt with. Section 21 of the NIA Act states that the NIA courts have jurisdiction over such cases, with the high court only able to hear appeals.
The Centre also argued that they needed to be able to interrogate Suresh in custody to properly determine if her involvement in the case was innocent. They pointed out that Suresh’s conduct was ‘suspicious’, LiveLaw reported. Customs officials have been trying to summon her for questioning, but she has been absconding ever since the gold smuggling case came to light. The Centre also brought up some of the other cases against Suresh, which you can read about here.
In addition to the NIA court jurisdiction issue, the Centre also argued that Suresh could not be granted anticipatory bail as this was now barred under Section 43D(5) of the UAPA.
Under this provision, if someone has been accused of a terror-related offence under the UAPA, a judge cannot grant them bail if the case diary and materials submitted by the investigators make out a prima facie case.
As Suresh’s lawyers have not been provided with the statements by customs officials and the new NIA FIR, they asked the court for copies of these so that they could respond to these arguments by the Centre. The judge adjourned the case till Tuesday, 14 July as a result.
As of now, the details of the FIR and the terror funding allegation against Suresh are not yet public. During the hearing, the Centre argued that Suresh should not get anticipatory bail even if this were possible under law as the case was one where the “security of the nation and its economic stability” was at stake, according to LiveLaw.
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