Kochi: The bail plea of Swapna Suresh, one of the key accused in the diplomatic gold smuggling case, in a case registered by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), has been approved by the Kerala High Court on Tuesday.
With this, Swapna will now be able to walk out of the prison after 14 months. A Division Bench of Justices K Vinod Chandran and C Jayachandran also granted bail to other accused P S Sarith, Mohammed Shafi P, A M Jalal, Rabins Hameed, Ramees K T, Sharafudeen K T, and Mohammad Ali.
A multi-agency probe was initiated after the seizure of 30 kg of gold worth Rs 14.82 crore on July 5 last year from a diplomatic baggage at the air cargo of the Trivandrum International Airport by the Customs (Preventive) Commissionerate, Cochin. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which took over the probe on the directive of the Union Home Ministry, had stated that the proceeds of smuggling could be used to fund terror activities.
Key accused P S Sarith, Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair were subsequently arrested. Swapna and Sarith are former employees of the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram and allegedly used their past connections to smuggle gold using the diplomatic channel. While Sarith was arrested by the Customs, Swapna and Sandeep Nair were nabbed from Bengaluru by the NIA in September 2020.
In January, the National Investigation Agency had filed a charge-sheet against 20 people before a special court in Kochi for their alleged involvement in the smuggling. The accused were booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA.
The NIA investigation revealed that the accused had knowingly conspired since June 2019, raised funds and smuggled around 167 kg of gold into the country from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) between November 2019 and June 2020 through the import cargo addressed to diplomats at the Consulate General of the UAE in Thiruvananthapuram.
The main accused in the case had planned to smuggle more gold from countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. The consignment was found camouflaged in a diplomatic baggage from the UAE that is exempted from inspection in accordance with the Vienna Convention.
Later, the Enforcement Directorate initiated a probe into a money laundering angle. The dollar smuggling case pertains to smuggling of 1.90 lakh US dollars carried out by UAE Consulate’s former finance department head Khalid Ali Shoukri with the help of Swapna and Sarith who are two of the accused in the gold smuggling case.
The COFEPOSA (Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling) charges against Swapna and Sandeep were dropped by the HC last month and Sandeep was released from jail.