As the investigation by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Customs into the Kerala gold smuggling case progresses, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is closely monitoring the case and may soon join the probe to unearth the money transactions involved in the matter.
According to sources, once enough evidence to establish the case against the accused surfaces, the ED can take up the case under provisions of The Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (FEMA), and Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA).
"ED probe will be on whether the accused transacted money for obtaining the gold. If so in what channel the money was exchanged and who are the persons involved and the persons in another country. If money is not transacted than it falls under the category of hawala, which comes in money laundering, that has strict provisions under which a case can be taken up," sources told ANI.
According to the sources, the PMLA has provisions for attaching the properties of the accused once the Customs charges Section 135 in the Customs Act, particularly in the present case, in which two accused have previous records of gold smuggling.
The NIA probe would be primarily focusing on how the gold smuggled and the working of persons behind it as gold smuggling is causing harm to the national security, the Customs probe could trace the dark underbelly of the gold trail in Kerala.
"But if the probe has to be carried out in another country, then the help of the Interpol would be needed and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is the nodal agency in India to put forward such a request officially," said a senior official of the enforcement agency.
Regarding the trail of the Gold in Kerala, Sayeed Muhammad, who had a long career in Customs and also worked with Directorate of Revenue Intelligence before retiring from the ED, said that Kerala is a known gold market and carriers are used by their handlers particularly from the Middle East countries to smuggle gold.
"Carriers are used to smuggle gold in various forms including liquid and paste. I have come across cases where the carriers were even clueless about what they were carrying. Once the gold reaches here, there are people here who have machines to convert it to any form before handing it to the potential buyers. During a probe regarding smuggled gold that was busted in Kerala, the customs had seized two furnaces used to change gold from a person in Kozhikode. The modus operandi of each group varies and there is no common model," Muhammad said.
This comes days after 30 Kg of gold worth Rs 14.82 crore was smuggled in consignment camouflaged as diplomatic baggage was busted by customs in Thiruvananthapuram.
The case gained national attention after the opposition in the state alleged the involvement of the Chief Minister's Office as one of the accused reportedly had connections with the Principal Secretary to CMO who was removed from the post.
The NIA has registered an FIR under Sections 16, 17 and 18 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, against four accused persons, of which three have been arrested.