HC Orders Police Probe as 100 kg Gold Disappears from CBI Custody
103 kg gold (amounting to more than Rs 43 crore) disappeared from the agency’s custody.
In an embarrassing turn for the CBI, the Madras High Court asked the Tamil Nadu Police to probe into the disappearance of 103 kg gold (amounting to more than Rs 43 crore) from the agency’s custody, The Indian Express reported.
The court rejected CBI’s plea reasoning “the prestige of the CBI would come down if investigation is done by the local police.”
The court responded, asking the CB-CID to lodge an FIR, that “It may be an agni pariksha (trial by fire) for the CBI, but that cannot be helped. If their hands are clean, like Sita, they may come out brighter. If not, they would have to face the music.”
CBI also sought a probe by the CBI or National Investigation Agency instead of the state police. However, Judge P N Prakash said “The court cannot subscribe to this view, because the law does not sanction such an inference. All policemen have to be trusted and it does not lie in the mouth of one to say that the CBI have special horns, whereas, the local police have only a tail.”
The gold was seized in connection with cases filed over allegations that the officials of Minerals and Metals Trading Corporation of India (MMTC) in Chennai had performed favours for Surana Corporation Limited, which dealt in import of gold and silver.
According to a report by The Indian Express, In September 2013, in another case registered by the CBI, which said that while the seized gold was not wanted in the 2012 cases, it had found that Surana had imported the same in violation of the Foreign Trade Policy. The CBI hence requested that the seized gold be transferred from the first case to the fresh one, after which the court allowed the transfer of about 400 kg on the record. As the gold was already in the vault, “there was no physical inventorisation by the court.”
In 2015, the CBI filed a closure report, stating “there is no adequate evidence forthcoming” for the second case. The CBI Special Court accepted but directed that the seized gold be handed over to the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT). This order was later set aside by the Madras High Court on Surana’s petition.
However, the SBI had initiated proceedings against Surana over non-payment of dues and moved the CBI Special Court seeking the seized gold.
In the order that sought a probe against the CBI, the Madras HC on on Friday, 11 December, noted “Thus… all of them, like the famous character Colorado played by the late Omar Sharif in the Hollywood blockbuster Mackenna’s Gold, went on a gold hunting expedition to the Special Court.
Like Colorado entering into an agreement with Monkey, the Apache, to share the spoils of gold, the SBI and Surana entered into an agreement and filed a compromise memo before the Special Court… to hand over the gold weighing 400.47 kg.”
The CBI overturned Surana’s petition, but in December 2019, the National Company Law Tribunal, which had been approached by the SBI, ordered that the gold be distributed to the six banks that had money owed by Surana.
This was when the gold was found to be 103.864 kg short, “to the great shock and surprise of all”, as the high court noted, and a probe against the CBI was ordered.
According to ANI, the CBI searched the building of Surana Corporation limited, Chennai, and prepared a search list which mentioned that 400.47 kg gold was inventoried and kept in the safe and vaults of Surana, sealed in presence of independent witnesses and MD of Surana corporation and its officials.
As per directions of the High Court, vaults were opened in presence of official liquidator, officials belonging to six banks and independent witnesses to hand over gold to lender banks of Surana Corporation. Seals affixed on vaults were intact. However, the gold weighed only 296.66 kg, ANI cited CBI officials as stating.
As the discrepancy between quantity mentioned in the search memo and the weight, the CBI ordered an internal inquiry by the senior officer to look into role of its officials, if any. It's clarified that the inventoried gold was kept in premises of Surana only under seal.
(with inputs from The Indian Express)
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