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13 accused of smuggling 185-kg gold set free by Supreme Court

August 17, 2019 06:59 AM


13 accused of smuggling 185-kg gold set free by Supreme Court
Centre had appealed against special board’s order dropping COFEPOSA charges against 13 accused in the smuggling case
Abhishek Sharan & Sunil
TWEETS @MumbaiMIrror

Days after it upheld the detention of two alleged gold smugglers under the stringent COFEPOSA Act, the Supreme Court (SC) on Friday dismissed the Centre’s Special Leave Petition (SLP) against the special board’s order that quashed the charges. Thirteen men were detained under the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act (COFEPOSA) earlier this year for their alleged involvement in a case related to smuggling of 185 kg gold from Dubai via sea. Dismissing the SLP, the apex court directed that the accused men, who are lodged in a Mumbai prison, to be “released forthwith”.

The Maharashtra Advisory Board is constituted under the COEPOSA act and makes up the second and topmost tier of the screening panel. The order passed by the division bench comprising Justices Uday Umesh Lalit and Subhash R Reddy is regarding the Centre’s appeal against the board’s July order in which it dropped the COFEPOSA charges against the accused, saying “there does not exist sufficient grounds for the detention”. The accused were arrested under provisions of the Customs Act by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI)’s Mumbai zonal unit between March and April after the gold seizure “They should get default bail as their 60-days custody post-arrest is over,” said lawyer Sujay Kantawala.

The case has taken several turns after the COFEPOSA board invoked charges under the stringent Act against the 13 men on May 17.

Two of the key accused Nisar Aliyar and Arvindkumar Dhakad had challenged the invocation of COFEPOSA against them in Bombay High Court. On June 25, the high court quashed the detention orders on technical grounds. In its order, HC also stated that the documents on the detailed “relied upon reasons” behind the detentions had not been served.

DRI had earlier clarified that the documents could not be given simultaneously as they ran into thousands of pages but had been handed over to the accused within the stipulated five days from the day the detention order was issued as per the COFEPOSA Act.

DRI’s internal handbook on ‘guidelines’ on COFEPOSA advises its officers to hand over all the documents simultaneously.

After the Centre went in appeal against the high court’s order, the SC on July 18 set it aside, holding that the procedural safeguards as per law had been complied with. The SC, considering the gravity of the charges against the syndicate, had said, “The liberty of an individual has to be subordinated within reasonable bounds” for the “good of the people and the nation’s security”. “The High Court erred in interfering with the satisfaction of the detaining authority and the impugned judgment cannot be sustained and is liable to be set aside,” the SC had said.

However, the advisory board dropped the special charges against the accused on July 22, which was challenged by the Centre in SC. The Centre’s SLP had pleaded the SC to consider whether the “advisory board erred in exercising its jurisdiction”. Defending the detentions, the SLP had pointed out that based on material available, COFEPOSA’s ‘Competent Authority’ had arrived at a subjective satisfaction to conclude that the accused were allegedly involved in smuggling activities, which were prejudicial to the country’s economic interests.

The May 17 detention orders were passed after the board further concluded that the accused “were likely to indulge in activities prejudicial to the state and with a view to prevent them from engaging in smuggling and transportation of goods.”

“This clearly means that there was no merit in the DRI case,” Kantawala added.

“This order has far-reaching implications as the advisory board gives an opinion which is not appealable to the SC. The DRI committed grave illegality by not releasing all the detainees after the binding opinion of the advisory board,” he said

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