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Last Updated : Jul 10, 2020 02:39 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Kerala gold smuggling: NIA takes over investigation, suspect moves HC for pre-arrest bail

The gold weighing over 30 kg was seized from baggage, carrying the name of a diplomatic person, that had landed by air cargo at Thiruvananthapuram international airport.

Representative image
Representative image

The Centre, on July 9, allowed the National Investigating Agency (NIA) to investigate the Thiruvananthapuram gold smuggling case in Kerala in view of "serious implications for national security."

Meanwhile, the foreign consulate's former woman employee - suspected to be involved in the racket - moved the state high court for anticipatory bail.

The NIA will probe the case of smuggling, detected by the Customs sleuths, which has also taken a political turn with Congress and BJP targeting Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan after the woman was found to have been working for the state I-T department, a portfolio held by him.

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The Ministry of Home Affairs ordered the NIA probe a day after Vijayan, amid demands for his resignation, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his "intervention for an effective investigation" into the seizure of gold worth about Rs 15 crore from a "diplomatic baggage" which arrived at the international airport in Thiruvananthapuram recently.

"The MHA permits the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to investigate the Thiruvananthapuram airport gold smuggling case, as the organised smuggling operation may have serious implications for national security," a home ministry spokesperson said in Delhi.

The gold weighing over 30 kg was seized from baggage, carrying the name of a diplomatic person, that had landed by air cargo at Thiruvananthapuram international airport recently. The Customs department has said it suspected a smuggling syndicate had misused the name of a person in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) consulate who enjoys diplomatic immunity.

On July 9, India said it was keeping the UAE embassy informed about the case and that the mission was extending all cooperation to the Customs authorities examining it.

"The customs authorities, following established protocol and procedure, have seized a consignment sent from abroad in the name of an official working in the Consulate General of the United Arab Emirates in Thiruvananthapuram," Spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs Anurag Srivastava said at an online media briefing.

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The anticipatory bail plea of the woman employee, on the run since being sacked from contractual service in the state department after her name cropped up in the smuggling case, is expected to come up before the high court on July 10.

The woman and an alleged accomplice of her are absconding even as an audio clip in which she purportedly claims innocence surfaced.

In a related legal development, the consulate's another former employee, R Sarith Kumar - who has been arrested in the case - was produced before the economic offences court in Kochi and sent to the customs department custody for further probe.

As a political storm erupted over the case, the opposition Congress and BJP in the state stepped up their attack on Vijayan demanding his resignation and a CBI probe alleging "involvement of his office" in the case.

Meanwhile, various television channels aired a voice clip in which the wanted woman purportedly claimed she had no role in the smuggling case. The woman is heard saying that her only involvement in the incident was that she had called a person in the diplomatic cargo section and asked him to clear the cargo.

She claimed the developments in the past few days had brought her family on the verge of suicide.

"I know all political leaders and I have only an official relationship with them" and had invited them for various functions, she said adding she had no connection with the smuggling case.

The audio clip surfaced on a day when the Kochi customs wrote to state police chief Loknath Behera seeking certain CCTV visuals of the airport, police sources said. The DGP has directed the Police commissioner and IG traffic to hand over the footage to the Customs, they added.

(With agency inputs)
First Published on Jul 10, 2020 01:03 pm
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