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Smuggling of gold not threatening the economic security of India will not amount to a terrorist act under the UAPA: Delhi High Court

The principle that an element of threat to economic security needs to be established for gold smuggling to be considered a terrorist act under UAPA was upheld by the High Court of Delhi through the learned bench led by HONOURABLE MS. JUSTICE MUKTA GUPTA in the case of Vaibhav Sampat More v. National Investigation Agency (Criminal Appeal Case No. 115 of 2022) & connected appeals.

FACTS OF THE CASE: Brief facts of the case are as follows; on 28th August 2020, eight accused, i.e. the appellants herein except appellant Vaibhav Sampat More were intercepted by the Delhi Zonal Unit of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), travelling from Assam, Guwahati to Delhi in Train No.02423 and it is alleged that 504 gold bars weighing 83.621 kilograms, which were smuggled were recovered from them at the New Delhi Railway Station. After the DRI carried out its investigation, an RC was registered by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for alleged commission of criminal conspiracy, furthering terrorist activities and also threatening the economic security of India as provided under Section 15(1) (a) (iiia) of UAP Act being a terrorist act punishable under Section 16 of the UAP Act. The lower court denied their bail in May 2021. The appeals argued that other than the statements made under Section 108 of the Customs Act, the prosecution had no evidence against the appellants. Even the statements themselves were inadmissible in a trial under the UAPA. The counsel for the appellants argued that there was no material on record to show that the gold was procured from foreign sources.

The counsel for the NIA stated that Section 15(1)(a) (iiia) was introduced due to the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), in which it was stated that gold is a universally accepted currency which can be traded anonymously. Such transactions would be difficult to trace and track and would cause severe damage to the country’s economic security. He, therefore, claimed that the appellants committed a larger conspiracy to commit a terrorist act by disturbing the economic stability of this country. Given the seriousness of the offence, he pleaded that bail should not be granted to the appellants.

JUDGEMENT: After reviewing the submissions of both the sides, the Court noted that in the present case, no death had been caused, and so Section 16(b) of the UAPA, which provides for a sentence of minimum imprisonment of five years which may extend to life imprisonment, would not be applicable. It also ruled that the mere smuggling of gold that does not threaten India’s economic security or monetary stability would not amount to a terrorist act under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). It, therefore, granted bail to all the accused subject to them furnishing a personal bond and surety of ₹1 lakh. They were directed to submit their passports to the trial court and not leave the country without prior permission. They were also directed to submit their residential addresses and phone numbers and share their live locations with the Investigating Officers for six months.

Judgement reviewed by – Abhinav Paul Mathew

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