Kerala gold smuggling accused Sandeep Nair out on bail after custody of 15 months
After spending 15 months in judicial custody, the fourth accused in the Kerala gold smuggling case, Sandeep Nair, was released on bail on Saturday from the central jail in the state capital.
Earlier he was granted bail in cases registered by the National Investigation Agency and Enforcement Directorate but he could not come out due to charges imposed under the Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act (Cofeposa). His one-year detention under Cofeposa ended on Friday and the High Court also quashed Cofeposa provisions imposed on his acquaintance Swapna Suresh on Friday.
After coming out of jail, Nair said most of the charges against him were trumped up and he would fight it out in court. He said he will stick to all statements given to various investigating agencies. While he was in the jail he sent a letter to the chief judicial magistrate in Ernakulam alleging that he was under pressure from a senior officer of the ED to drag the names of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and two other ministers in the case.
It led to a major faceoff between the ED and the state government and the latter registered a case against ED assistant director P Radhakrishnan which was later quashed by the High Court. Later the NIA had made him an approver in the case much to the reservation of other central agencies.
To a question, Nair said he knew Swapna Suresh for last three years or so but was in touch with first accused P Sarith as an employee of the UAE consulate for many years. He said since he was released on bail under strict conditions he could not divulge further details about cases pending against him.
The sensational gold smuggling case surfaced in July 2020 after the seizure of 30 kg gold hidden in bathroom fittings in one of the consignments camouflaged as diplomatic baggage in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) consulate in Thiruvananthapuram. The case was later handed over to the NIA and the agency arrested Swapna Suresh and her accomplice Sandeep Nair from their hideout in Bengaluru.
The case invited enough embarrassment for the Left Front government after the CM’s principal secretary M Sivasankar, a senior IAS officer, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate. Later he was suspended and he secured bail from the High Court. During investigation central agencies found that the accused smuggled at least 180 kg gold on 21 different occasions through the consulate. After the case came to light a senior consulate official slipped out of the country under the garb of diplomatic immunity. Though customs made a request to the Union government to interrogate him the UAE is yet to grant permission.
Now a multi-agency team (NIA, ED, Customs and Income Tax) is probing the case and 34 people have been arrested so far but most of them got bail later. Customs preventive officer Sumit Kumar, a tough officer who was supervising the investigation, was also transferred later.
On Friday the HC had quashed the Cofeposa slapped on main accused Swapna Suresh. Her mother had moved the court saying Cofeposa can be applied on habitual offenders and this was the first case against her. A division bench of Justices AK Jayasankaran Nambiar and CP Mohammad Nias allowed the mother’s plea that sought quashing of the order. Though Cofeposa was quashed she will remain in judicial custody as many other cases are pending against her.