(Eds: Adds details) Kochi, Oct 15 (PTI) In a set back to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), a court here on Thursday granted conditional bail to ten accused in the Kerala gold smuggling case, observing that there was no prima facie material to show that they had any links with terror outfits.
Special NIA court judge P Krishna Kumar, however, dismissed the bail pleas of three of the key accused -- Mohammed Shafi, Muhammed Ali and Sharafuddin K T, taking note of the agency's submissions.
Two other prime accused in the case Swapna Suresh and Sarith PS withdrew their bail petitions on Thursday, a day after the NIA had opposed any relief for all the accused.
The probe agency, which has registered an FIR under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act while launching its probe in the case in July, had contented there was intelligence inputs regarding probable use of proceeds from the gold smuggling for the anti-national and terrorism activities.
The court noted that more than 90 days have elapsed after the commencement of investigation by NIA, but there was no material whatsoever in the case diary to prima facie satisfy that the ten petitioners acted with an intention to damage the economic security of India as claimed by the central agency.
'...there is nothing in the case diary to show the money spent by them was coming from any terror outfits or that they received the gold for transferring it to any such dark forces or even their connection whatsoever with any terrorist forces', it said in the order.
The court said NIA has every justification to proceed against a few persons who have main role in the conspiracy of smuggling gold for various persons through diplomatic channel and to further probe into the chance of involvement of any terrorist organisations.
'But in the case of the other petitioners who are so far shown only as persons who individually or together with some of the accused persons smuggled gold for their personal benefit, the court cannot detain them any further, unless there are some materials which prima facie show that they have any live link with terror forces.
Dismissing bail plea of Shafi, the judge said the case diary reveals that he played a vital role in the conspiracy and that he was instrumental in smuggling of gold on behalf of various other petitioners.
Thus a deeper probe in respect of the facts narrated in the FIR was required and at this stage, it would be improper to enlarge him on bail, the court held.
As regards Muhammed Ali and Sharafuddin, the court said it considered the arguments raised by the prosecution which strenuously objected to their release on the ground that they also have 'very suspicious' background.
It said that according to NIA, Ali, formerly prosecuted under the UAPA, still has connections with an extremist group.
The Judge rejected the bail plea of Sharafuddin referring to NIA's contention that he has close nexus with co-accused Ramees whom it suspects of having links with underworld don Dawood Ibrahim gang.
Granting bail to the ten accused with stringent conditions, the court directed them to execute a bond for Rs 10 lakh each with two solvent sureties each for the like-sum.
They were also ordered to surrender their passports, not to leave the state without the court's permission and not make any attempt to contact any of the prosecution witnesses.
Directing the accused to appear before the investigating officer as and when required by him, the court said they shall also present themselves before the station house officer (SHO) of their respective local police station between 10 am and 11 am on every Sunday until further orders.
The NIA had on Wednesday opposed the bail pleas of the accused, saying there was intelligence inputs regarding probable use of proceeds from the gold smuggling for the anti-national and terrorism activities.
The agency had argued the detention of all accused in judicial custody up to 180 days was absolutely necessary to carry forward the investigation in the case.
In a related development, a special court here on Thursday dismissed the bail plea of Sandeep Nair, another key accused, in the money laundering case linked to the gold smuggling.
The NIA, probing the terror angle in the gold smuggling through diplomatic channel, initially named Sarith, Swapna Suresh, and Sandeep Nair and Fazil Fareed as the accused in the case which relates to the seizure of 30 kg of 24 carat gold worth Rs 14.82 crore at Thiruvananthapuram airport on July 5 by the Customs (Preventive) Commissionerate, Kochi.
During the course of the investigation, it has arraigned at least 30 others as accused and arrested many of them.
Besides NIA, the Customs and Enforcement Directorate are also probing the case of smuggling of gold through diplomatic baggage addressed to the UAE consulate at Thiruvananthapuram since November last year. PTI TGB VS VS