The Delhi High Court has held that ordinary gold smuggling that does not jeopardise India’s economic security or monetary stability does not qualify as a terrorist act under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
Nine accused persons were granted bail by a division bench consisting of Justice Mukta Gupta and Justice Mini Pushkarna after they filed an appeal challenging a Trial Court order denying them bail in a case involving offences under sections 16, 18, 20 of the UAPA and sections 120B, 204, 409, and 471 of the IPC.
“Possession, use, production, and transfer of counterfeit currency or coin is illegal and a crime in and of itself; but, production, possession, use, and transfer of ‘gold’ is not illegal or a crime in and of itself…..Thus, smuggling gold without any connection to threatening India’s economic security or monetary stability cannot be considered a terrorist act.”Delhi High Court
The prosecution claimed that eight of the appellants, with the exception of one Vaibhav Sampat More, were intercepted by the Delhi Zonal Unit of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence while travelling by train from Assam to Delhi.
They were accused of smuggling 504 gold bars totalling 83.621 kilos, which were discovered at the New Delhi Railway Station.
Following the DRI’s investigation, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) filed an RC for alleged criminal conspiracy, furthering terrorist activities, and endangering India’s economic security and monetary stability, as defined by section 15(1) (a) (iiia) of the UAPA, which is a terrorist act punishable under section 16 of the UAPA.
The appellants maintained that the prosecution had no evidence against them other than the purported statements made by the Customs Officer under section 108 of the Customs Act, which could not be considered and were inadmissible in a trial under the UAPA, which had a separate procedure for trial.
It was further contended that there was no evidence on record to support the inference that the appellants’ gold bars were obtained from outside the nation.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) SV Raju referred to the Statement of Objects and Reasons for amending Section 15 of the UAPA by introducing Section 15(1)(a)(iiia), stating that the amendment was made in response to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations, and that in this report, it was clearly stated that gold is a universally accepted currency that can be traded anonymously, and that such transactions would be difficult to trace and track, and that such transactions would.
He stated that the appellants were part of a bigger plot to commit a terrorist act by disrupting the country’s economic stability, and that, given the gravity of the crime, bail should not be granted to the appellants.
However, the court noted, because no death has occurred in this case, Clause ‘b’ of Section 16 of the UAPA, which provides for a minimum punishment of 5 years’ imprisonment with the possibility of life imprisonment, will not be applied.
As a result, it granted bail to all of the defendants on the condition that they post a personal bond and a surety of Rs. 1 lakh.
They were also told to hand up their passports to the trial court and not to leave the country without permission.
Except for Dileep Laxman Patil and Vaibhav Sampat More, the Court found that all of the appellants had been in detention since September 21, 2020, and had spent more than 20 months in custody.
“The trial is likely to take some time, also for the reason that some of the appellants have filed petitions challenging the order granting sanction claiming that an alleged offence under the Customs Act cannot be brought in the realm of provisions of the UAPA.”