The NIA, investigating the case of gold smuggling through the diplomatic channel, won a decisive first round when the NIA court in Kochi accepted the applicability of UAPA in the case and rejected the bail pleas of Swapna Suresh, one of the main accused.
Doubts had been expressed earlier whether UAPA would be applicable to case as it was essentially one involving gold smuggling, especially since the investigators have not yet managed to follow the terror trails.
But the NIA persisted with the terrorist angle, taking advantage of the amendment to the Act making economic offences meant to destabilise the nation’s economy as an act of terrorism. The investigators have secured clues on whether the proceeds of the smuggled gold had landed up with people suspected to have terrorist links and informed the court that there was need for further investigations to establish the trail.
The court had asked for the case diary to see if the case satisfied the conditions for applying UAPA and, after detailed examination of the submitted evidences, dismissed the bail plea.
The NIA had cited the woman’s clout with the office of the chief minister and her close connection with M Sivasankar, the former principal secretary of the chief minister and the IT secretary, to argue that granting bail to her would enable her to destroy evidence.
The accused had told the NIA that the money recovered by them from her locker was the commission she earned in connection with the state government’s housing scheme, popularly known as the Life Mission, of which Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is the chairman.
The state government had entered into a deal with the UAE charity organisation Red Crescent for providing Rs 20 crore for building houses for the poor. Days before the deal was signed by the chief minister and his team in Dubai, Swapna and Sivasankar had travelled to the emirate to negotiate with the charity organisation.
Red Crescent is the name by which Red Cross operates in Islamic countries as generally there is a ban on the use of cross in the more orthodox Muslim countries in the Gulf.
The commission was probably provided by the Indian company that landed the contract for the construction of the houses.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala has demanded a CBI probe into the case as the scheme is linked to the chief minister’s office and that construction had been awarded to a company with which Sivasankar had close connections.
Swapna had confessed to the investigators that the locker was opened jointly by herself as well as Sivasankar’s chartered accountant as advised by the top bureaucrat. When newspersons had raised this issue at the chief minister’s media briefing, he had lost his cool and reprimanded the media for asking such questions.