The Madras High Court has directed the Tamil Nadu Crime Branch-CID police to probe into 'missing' 103 kg gold, which was seized by CBI in a raid from an importer here. The gold is part of 400.47 kg in bullion and ornaments confiscated by the CBI when it carried out searches at the office of Surana Corporation Ltd in Chennai in 2012.
Justice P N Prakash on Friday directed the CB-CID to conduct an inquiry by an officer in the rank of superintendent of police to be completed in six months, while rejecting the CBI's submission that its prestige would "go down" if the investigation was carried out by local police. The matter relates to a petition filed by the liquidator of Surana Corporation Ltd, seeking a direction to CBI to handover the remaining 103.864 kg gold.
The yellow metal was kept in the safes and vaults of Surana Corporation Ltd under the CBI's lock and seal. When the matter came up, the judge said, "This court cannot subscribe to this view because the law does not sanction such an inference.
All policemen must be trusted, and it does not lie in the mouth of one to say that CBI have special horns, whereas, local police have only a tail." The judge further observed that it may be an Agni pariksha (test by fire) for the central agency. "But that cannot be helped. If their hands are clean like Sita (wife of Ram in the epic Ramayanam), they may come out brighter. If not, they would have to face the music," the judge said.
The central agency submitted that it had handed over the 72 keys of the safes and vaults to the Chennai principal special court for CBI cases. During the seizure, the gold bars were weighed all- together but while handing over to the liquidator, appointed for a settlement of debts between Surana and SBI, it was weighed individually and that was the reason for the discrepancy, the CBI claimed.
While prosecuting the case, the CBI accused officials of Minerals & Metals Trading Corporation of India (MMTC) of showing undue favour to Surana in importing gold and silver. Subsequently, the CBI came to the conclusion that the gold did not have a bearing on a corruption case, and that it had, however, been imported in violation of the Foreign Trade Policy (FTP).
Hence, a separate case was registered in 2013, and the seized gold was transferred to the file of the new case. Later, the CBI concluded the probe and filed a closure report, holding that the accused had not committed any offence, but, by issuing the nominated agency certificate to Surana, had violated certain circulars, for which departmental action was recommended against some officials.
The agency also requested the special court to transfer the gold to the office of the director-general of foreign trade (DGFT) as the ownership of the gold was subject to the outcome of the departmental inquiry. Aggrieved, Surana challenged the transfer of gold to DGFT.
Meanwhile, the SBI moved the National Company Law Tribunal seeking a direction the central agency to handover the gold to the bank as directed the special CB On December 27, 2019, the NCLT rejected the Union Commerce Ministry's request for the gold and ordered that it be handed over to the liquidator in the presence of officials of all loanee banks. Accordingly, the CBI along with representatives of all banks and those from Surana broke open the seals of the vault and took inventory of the gold between February 27 and 29 this year and found that there was only 296.606 kg of gold.
Subsequently, the liquidator approached the high court seeking a direction to the central agency to handover the remaining gold.