Friday, March 5

After Kerala smuggling racket, NIA probes international terror links in 2 more cases

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The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which has been probing the Kerala gold smuggling racket, is on to investigating a foreign terror link in two more similar cases.

Earlier, Rajasthan Police had seized gold, weighing 18.5 kilograms (kg), on July 3 and another racket involving illegal transportation of gold bars, weighing over 83 kg, was uncovered by the Directorate of Revenue and Intelligence (DRI) in New Delhi on August 28, people familiar with the development said.

NIA has taken over both the cases, as it suspects there is a larger international conspiracy, involving terrorists and gold smugglers, to use the fund for anti-national activities.

Investigators are not ruling out the role of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s spy agency, behind these separate organised cases of gold smuggling.

However, officials cited above said that Jaipur and New Delhi seizures have no connection with Kerala gold smuggling case, in which over two dozen people have been arrested to date and the alleged key conspirators are based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

NIA informed a Kochi court last Wednesday that the two accused in the Kerala gold smuggling case – KT Ramees and M Sharafuddin – have links with underworld fugitive don Dawood Ibrahim.

Ramees and Sharafuddin had also visited Tanzania in east Africa several times to meet a contact of Ibrahim known as Feroze Oasis and had discussed ways to smuggle firearms to India, NIA has claimed.

It is for the first time that the terror act – Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967 – has been invoked in gold smuggling cases in the country.

Initially, the Act was enforced in the Kerala gold smuggling case and later both Jaipur and New Delhi seizures came under its ambit.

An official from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said: “The intelligence agencies are working together for the first time to identify the masterminds based abroad, who are involved in gold smuggling. There appears to be a larger conspiracy to fund terror activities and damage the country’s financial stability by bringing in such huge quantities of gold.”

NIA has arrested two persons last Tuesday. They have been identified as Chuna Ram and Aizaz Khan, who belong to Rajasthan’s Nagaur district. NIA has also raided four locations in connection with the Jaipur gold smuggling case.

Gold bars, weighing 18.5 kg, were seized at Jaipur international airport from 10 people, who had arrived from Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, by an Indian low-cost carrier’s flight on July 3.

Sonia Narang, deputy inspector-general (DIG) and NIA spokesperson said, both Ram and Khan knew the couriers arrested on July 3. The duo had established a network for smuggling of gold from Riyadh to India, she added.

DRI officials had confiscated 504 gold bars, weighing 83.6 kg, which is worth Rs 43 crore, on August 28 in New Delhi. The haul gave the impression that the syndicate is bigger than the Jaipur gold smuggling racket.

The gold bars, said another officer cited above, was smuggled from Myanmar through the international land border at Moreh in Manipur, while the syndicate had its base in Guwahati, the biggest city in the north-east. “They were planning to sell the gold bars to their contacts in Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai,” said the official.

A DRI official said that the Myanmar syndicate recruited poor people from across the country to act as carriers of smuggled gold by luring them with quick and easy money. “The smugglers used air, land and rail routes to transport the smuggled gold,” said the DRI official.

NIA will investigate the Myanmar link behind the smuggling ring, which may have been active in the past as well. “Myanmar doesn’t have its own large scale production of gold. The consignment is likely to have come from a third country,” he added.

Neeraj Kumar, a former commissioner of Delhi Police, who had also probed 1993 Mumbai serial blasts during his stint with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), told HT: “The gold smuggling has always been an organised business and poses a great threat to national security. Ibrahim and his aides also used to smuggle gold to Mumbai from the UAE and Pakistan through their contacts in ISI. Later, their gold smuggling route was used for smuggling explosives for the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai. It’s a welcome change that UAPA empowers probe into such gold smuggling cases for terror conspiracy.”