NIA takes over gold smuggling case: UAPA case against Sarith, Swapna and two others

The National Investigation Agency earlier took over the case as it could have ‘serious implications for national security.’
NIA takes over gold smuggling case: UAPA case against Sarith, Swapna and two others
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The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has registered a First Information Report (FIR) under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in the case of gold smuggling allegedly through diplomatic channels in Kerala. The FIR has been registered against four accused persons — Sarith, Swapna Suresh, Fazil Fareed and Sandeep Nair — and others in connection with the case.

The case was registered on the allegation that those involved in the gold smuggling case were ‘raising funds for terrorist activities’ and had links to the Islamic State.

In the FIR registered on Friday, Sections 16 (punishment for terrorist act), 17 (punishment for raising funds for terrorist act) and 18 (punishment for conspiracy etc) of the UAPA have been invoked.

On Friday, the union government’s counsel submitted to the Kerala High Court that the anticipatory bail plea of Swapna Suresh is no longer maintainable as the NIA has taken over the probe.

The centre’s counsel Ravi Prakash cited Section 21 of the NIA Act and submitted that the High Court did not have the jurisdiction to consider Swapna’s anticipatory bail plea, and that only an NIA special court can now consider it.

The counsel also submitted that Swapna’s conduct remained suspicious as she had switched off her phone and is currently absconding, despite customs officials serving a summons notice to question her.

He also submitted that interrogating Swapna in custody was necessary for further investigation of the case.

Swapna and Sarith were former employees of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram, while Sandeep is Sarith's brother. Sarith reportedly used the help of Fazil, who runs a store in UAE, to forward diplomatic baggage.  

Sarith was taken into custody on Sunday after he had arrived at the Thiruvananthapuram airport to collect a diplomatic bag, which, authorities say, had smuggled gold addressed to the wife of an official in the UAE Consulate in the city. Later, the customs also quizzed Sandeep’s wife Soumya. Swapna and Sandeep still remain absconding. Hariraj, a member of the Air Cargo Association of India, too, was interrogated in connection with the case on Friday.

Meanwhile, the union government’s counsel submitted that Sarith and Sowmya’s statements were recorded under relevant sections of the Customs Act. These statements reportedly said that Swapna was involved in arranging the diplomatic papers necessary for delivering the baggage. The counsel said that this was corroborated by Swapna’s statements in her bail application.

The bench adjourned the hearing for July 14 after Swapna’s counsel TK Rajesh Kumar sought copies of the statement submitted by the Customs Department and the FIR registered by the NIA.

In her anticipatory bail plea, Swapna said that she had worked as an Executive Secretary at the UAE Consulate office from 2016 until 2019. Even after resigning, she used to work for the counsel as part of a ‘Work On Request’ basis, as they had sought her for help due to her experience.

She added that she had contacted the customs officials regarding the cargo only on the instructions given to her by the acting Consul General. Along with her bail application, she had attached an email correspondence purportedly between her and the Consular General to claim that she was innocent.

The counsel, however, submitted that “Custodial interrogation of Swapna Suresh is needed to ascertain if her involvement in the delivery of diplomatic cargo was innocent or not.”

It was on Thursday that the union government allowed the NIA to take over the probe. The decision was taken as the smuggling racket could have ‘serious implications for national security.’

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