The Supreme Court Tuesday refused to entertain the plea of NIA seeking cancellation of bail granted to 12 accused by the Kerala High Court in the sensational smuggling case in which 30 kg of 24 carat gold worth Rs 14.82 crore were seized at Thiruvananthapuram airport on July 5, last year by Customs department.
However, the apex court agreed to examine the legal question arising out of the high court’s verdict in which it was held that the offence of gold smuggling simplicitor is covered under the Customs Act and will not fall within the definition of terrorist act under section 15 (1) (a) (iiia) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. “They (accused) all are employees of the government. We will not enter into bail cancellation aspect. If you want then we can leave the legal question open," a bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy said. Additional Solicitor General K M Natraj, appearing for NIA, said besides the grant of bail, the high court has interpreted the definition of terrorist act in relation to smuggling and this aspect needed to be considered by the top court.
The law officer said one appeal on the issue is also pending adjudication in the top court. Why should we issue notice on another SLP (special leave petition) when we are already examining it (legal question), the bench said. However, the top court then issued notice to the 12 accused, who have been granted bail in the case, and agreed to examine the legal aspect with regard to interpretation of terrorist act under UAPA.
The NIA, probing the terror angle in the gold smuggling through diplomatic channel, had initially named Sarith, Swapna Suresh, 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 international airport on July 5, last year by the Customs (Preventive) Commissionerate, Kochi.
The consignment was camouflaged as a diplomatic baggage sent from United Arab Emirates (UAE), the agency had alleged. During the course of the investigation, NIA 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, 2019.
A special NIA court had granted conditional bail to accused in the case, observing that there was no prima facie material to show that they had any links with terror outfits. The NIA went in appeal before the Kerala High Court which, on February 18, dismissed the pleas, saying, We are …of the view that the trial Judge is right in holding that the materials presented before the court at the time of considering the bail application did not reveal prima facie that the accused persons released on bail are involved in a terrorist act, as defined under Section 15 of the UA(P) Act.
The high court dealt in details the facts of the case and the definition of terrorist acts under the UAPA. Sum and substance of the … discussion is that by applying the above mentioned well known rules of interpretation of statutes, we are unable to hold that smuggling of gold simplicitor will fall within section 15 (1) (a) (iiia) of UAPA. In other words, gold smuggling clearly covered by the provisions of the Customs Act will not fall within the definition of terrorist act and Section 15 of UA(P) Act unless evidence is brought out to show that it is done with the intent to threaten or it is likely to threaten the economic security or monetary stability of India, the high court had held.