(Eds; updating with details of order, reax) Kochi, Apr 16 (PTI) In a jolt to the CPI(M)-led LDF government, the Kerala High Court on Friday quashed the two FIRs filed by state police against Enforcement Directorate officials for allegedly forcing the key accused in the gold smuggling case to give statements against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
It ordered the Special PMLA Court, examining the money trail in the smuggling, to examine the evidence collected by police.
Quashing the FIRs, the court held that one of the accused has already moved the Special PMLA Court, seeking remedy for his grievance that the ED officials were fabricating evidence.
Justice V G Arun directed the crime branch to submit all information gathered in the matter to the PMLA court in a sealed cover.
'...the FIR and further proceedings (in the case) are quashed.
The investigating officer shall forthwith submit all records pertaining to the crimes before the special court in a sealed cover.
The learned special judge can look into those records and other materials, if any available, while deciding whether it is expedient to conduct an enquiry,' the court said.
The judgment came in two pleas filed by Deputy Director of ED Kochi Zone, P Radhakrishnan.
The petitions challenged the two FIRs registered by the crime branch on the basis of a purported audio clip by gold smuggling accused Swapna Suresh, alleging she was coerced to implicate the CM in the case and a similar charge from a letter, reportedly ritten by co-accused Sandeep Nair.
In its petition, the ED had alleged that one of the FIRs was registered against its unnamed officials with 'ulterior motive of derailing the statutory investigation' under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) into a large economic offence of smuggling of huge quantities of gold.
The order said the special court has already received a 'complaint from Sandeep Nair and has allowed the application submitted by the crime branch' to question him in jail.
'The statement of Sandeep Nair recorded thereafter was made available to me in sealed cover.
In my considered opinion, while interdicting the police from continuing the investigation, the interest of justice requires that the special judge be permitted to look into the materials collected by the crime branch treating it as the information so as to decide whether it is expedient to conduct an enquiry,' the court said.
The ED had prayed that the FIR be quashed or the probe be transferred from the state police to the CBI to ensure an impartial investigation, 'because certain highly placed persons are involved in the case.' It had also submitted that the preliminary inquiry allegedly conducted by the state police was 'clearly a farce.' The Crime Branch had registered the first case on March 17 on the basis of a report filed by its team probing the leak of a voice clip, purportedly that of Suresh.
The FIR said the ED officials, while questioning Swapna Suresh on August 12 and 13 2020, forced her to give false false statements against the CM in order to 'fabricate evidence.' A case was registered under Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 167 (public servant framing an incorrect document with intent to cause injury), 192 (fabricating false evidence), 195-A (threatening any person to give false evidence), among others, of the Indian Penal Code.
Suresh, a former employee of the UAE consulate here, is the prime accused in the case relating to the smuggling of 30 kg of gold worth Rs 14.82 crore in a diplomatic baggage and is now under judicial custody since her arrest.
In a voice clip purported to be that of Suresh circulated a few months ago, it was alleged that some ED officials had threatened her while she was being interrogated at its office in Kochi in August 2020 to give statements against Vijayan and some ministers.
Later, two women civil police officers,who were with her when she was questioned by the ED, also reportedly claimed they had heard the ED officials forcing her to name Vijayan.
Besides the ED,the Customs and the National Investigation Agency are also probing the smuggling of gold through the diplomatic channel.
Meanwhile, BJP leader V Muraleedharan said the quashing of FIRs by the HC was a 'befitting reply to those campaigning against Central agencies' and 'a lesson for the CPI(M) and the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
He said the HC order upholds the integrity and impartiality of agencies likeED.
'It once again exposed the lies, Half-truths spread by @vijayanpinarayiand his self-interest driven coterie.
They have been misleading people with fabricated narratives. The order burst the myths spread by @CPIMKerala,' Muraleedharan tweeted.
However, Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said the verdict has exposed the 'nexus' between BJP and CPI(M).
'Today Kerala HC has exposed the nexus between BJP and CPM.
The vigilance case against ED was a false bravado by CPM against the Centre to fool the people.
Now await for the verdict by people which will quash the fake claims by LDF,' Chennithala tweeted. PTI COR TGB RRT APR ADMINISTRATOR APR ADMINISTRATOR