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150 kg of gold smuggled in 10 months for terror, UAE emblem forged: NIA

KOCHI: In a major revelation, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) probing the smuggling of gold through the diplomatic channel has found that the racket had brought in 150kg of gold over the past 10 months. The NIA Court on Monday remanded suspects Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair in the agency’s custody till July 21. It has also come to light that the smuggling was undertaken not primarily for jewellers but for terrorist activities, the agency told the court. The accused also forged the UAE Consulate’s emblem to send the consignments.

“The preliminary investigation carried out by multiple agencies showed that the gang had been smuggling gold since September 2019. They had smuggled around 150kg of gold till now. The interrogation of the suspects will shed more light on their modus operandi and the other people involved,” a source said.

Moving the custody application, the agency told the court that the Ministry of Home Affairs had conducted an initial probe and found that the smuggled gold was used for terrorist activities. According to NIA, a detailed probe is required as it involves the India-UAE bilateral relationship. The UAE has also launched a probe into the incident.

On Monday morning, the NIA Court decided that the custody application would be heard in the presence of the accused persons, following which they were brought from the Covid First-Line Centres in Thrissur and Angamaly to the court in the afternoon. Swapna arrived around 3pm and Sandeep Nair around 3.30pm. After some initial hiccups about the counsel to represent the accused, the court heard NIA prosecutor Arjun Ambalapatta. The counsel said that the gold was smuggled through the diplomatic channel by the accused.

Sandeep says consignment was addressed to a UAE diplomat

Both Swapna and Sarith were employees of the UAE Consulate and resigned due to unknown reasons. However, they came to learn about movement of the diplomatic baggage while working there. Later, they conspired with the other suspects, including Sandeep, and started smuggling gold in 2019.

In two previous attempts through the same channel, they had smuggled 9kg and 18kg of gold, before the bid to sneak in 30kg which was foiled at Thiruvananthapuram airport. They forged the UAE Consulate’s emblem to send the consignments. The NIA said it has seized a bag from Sandeep, which is suspected to have evidence that can give valuable information about the people who have links with the gang and their operations. The NIA submitted that the bag would be opened in the court later.

The court asked as to how the agency could link the smuggling incidents and terrorism, to which the NIA counsel said such illegal activity is a threat to the nation’s financial stability. Unlike hawala and counterfeit money, a huge amount can be garnered through a single gold smuggling bid. After this, the court asked the accused whether they had any objection to sending them to NIA custody. Swapna, who was shivering, complained of chest pain. The court asked the agency to provide her the required medical treatment.

Sandeep said the facts were different from what the NIA had told the court. He said the consignment was addressed to a UAE diplomat named Rashid Al Sheimeili. A diplomatic baggage can be sent only if the copies of the diplomat’s identity card and passport are attached with the papers. He asked why the diplomat’s role is not being probed. Besides, there is a clearing agent whose role has not been probed.

The NIA also filed a petition to rectify the name and address of third accused, Faisal, of Puthanpally in Thrissur. In the FIR filed earlier, he was mentioned as Fazil of Ernakulam. He is suspected to be the one who sent the consignments from the UAE. A petition was also filed seeking a non-bailable arrest warrant against him.

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