The Hon’ble Supreme Court held that it will not cancel the bail of the 12 accused in Kerala gold smuggling case. However, the Court stated that it would examine the applicability of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 in the gold smuggling case.
Background of the Case
On 5th July 2020, the officers of the Customs Department seized 30kgs of 24-carat gold from the International Airport, Thiruvananthapuram. The gold was camouflaged as diplomatic baggage and was sent from United Arab Emirates (UAE).
It was alleged that the gold was smuggled through the diplomatic channel and that the accused persons had made use of their contacts with the Consulate of UAE at Thiruvananthapuram.
The National Investigation Agency, Kochi (NIA) registered the case under Sections 16, 17 and 18 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 as the initial enquiry revealed that smuggling gold could have been used for financing terrorist activities in India.
Thereafter, bail was granted to the accused persons by a Special Court. Thereon, appeals were filed by NIA against the order of the Special Court. The Kerala High Court dismissed the said appeal and held that “gold smuggling with a mere illegal profit motive will not fall within the definition of a terrorist act.” Consequently, an appeal was filed by the Centre and the NIA to the Supreme Court.
Arguments before the Court
In the earlier appeal before the Kerala High Court, NIA had relied on the judgment of the Rajasthan High Court in which it was held that
“offence of gold smuggling with the intent to threaten or likely to threaten the economic security of the country is covered under the definition of terrorist act under Section 15 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.”
The Rajasthan High Court had rejected the contention of the party that ‘any other material’ did not include gold smuggling. However, the Kerala High court had held that ‘any other material’ does not include gold.
In the present appeal, it was submitted by the Centre and NIA that there was confusion pertaining to the applicability of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 in the gold smuggling case as the Kerala High Court and the Rajasthan High Court had arrived at different conclusions.
It was submitted by the Additional Solicitor General appearing for NIA that Kerala High Court had erred in granting bail to the accused persons.
Observations of the Supreme Court
The Bench constituted by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana and Justices A.S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy observed that
“the accused are employees of the government. We will not enter into the aspect of bail cancellation. If you want then we can leave the legal question open.”
Bail Not to be Set Aside, Examining the Legal Question about UAPA
The Hon’ble Supreme Court held that it would not set aside the bail that was granted by the Kerala High Court to the 12 accused in the gold smuggling case. However, the Court held that it would examine the legal question pertaining to whether the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 is applicable to gold smuggling cases, that is, whether gold smuggling falls within the purview of the definition of a terrorist act as provided under Section 15 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.