SC refuses to cancel bail of 12 in gold smuggling case

SC refuses to cancel bail of 12 in Kerala gold smuggling case, but agrees to examine legal issue

A special NIA court had granted conditional bail to accused in the case, observing that there was no material to show that they had any links with terror outfits

Supreme Court. Credit: Reuters file photo

The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to examine if stringent anti-terror law, UAPA, could be applied in gold smuggling cases, in the backdrop of a conflicting ruling by two high courts. 

The NIA approached the top court, seeking cancellation of bail granted to 12 accused by the Kerala High Court in the smuggling case, where 30 kg of 24 carat gold worth Rs 14.82 crore were seized at Thiruvananthapuram airport on July 5, last year, by the customs department. 

Additional Solicitor General K M Natraj, representing NIA, submitted before a bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana that 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.

The bench, also comprising justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, noted all accused are employees of the government.

“We will not enter into bail cancellation aspect," the bench said, agreeing to consider larger issue on applicability of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

The top court declined to cancel the bail granted to 12 accused in the controversial case pertaining to smuggling of gold through diplomatic baggage from UAE to Thiruvananthapuram. 

However, it issued notice to all the 12 accused who were granted bail.

The Centre, before the top court, pointed out confusion, arising from the ruling of two high courts – Rajasthan High Court and Kerala High Court – which arrived at diametrically opposite conclusions. 

In February, this year, the Kerala High Court, while granting bail to the 12 accused, had observed that gold smuggling does not come under the purview of terrorism.  

The court added that gold smuggling clearly covered by the provisions of the Customs Act will not fall within the definition of terrorist act in Section 15 of UAP 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. 

On the contrary, the Rajasthan High Court in February had ruled that a gold smuggler prosecuted under Customs Act could also be prosecuted under UAPA. The high court had refused to quash the FIR registered by the NIA under the offences of UAPA. 

Mohammad Aslam, the petitioner in the matter, was caught at Jaipur International Airport for smuggling over 1.5 Kg gold. The high court rejected Aslam’s plea contending that registering the case under UAPA would amount to “double jeopardy”, as he was already facing prosecution under the Customs Act. 

The high court had noted that smuggling gold with the intent to threaten the economic security of the country can be termed as a “terrorist act” UAPA. 

Aslam had moved the top court, seeking stay of investigation and the proceedings connected with FIR, which was registered by NIA under provisions of UAPA.  

In March, a bench led by Justice R F Nariman issued notice on his plea.