Madras HC orders probe into 100 kg gold ‘missing’ from CBI custody

CBI told the court in its defence that while handing over the gold to the liquidator, it was weighed individually and that was the reason for the discrepancy

It was found that the prime accused in the case - Swapna Suresh, Sandip Nair and Sarith - had smuggled gold through diplomatic channels 21 times since 2019 November. Photo: PTI

The Madras High Court on Friday (December 11) ordered a CB-CID probe into the disappearance of 100 kg of gold from CBI custody. The incident came to light after a vault, supposed to contain 400 kg gold that was seized by the central agency from a private importer in 2012, was opened.

The court reportedly questioned as to why the CBI should not be booked for theft.

In 2019, the National Company Law Tribunal had ordered the CBI to hand over the gold bullion to the liquidator of the company so that the proceeds can be distributed among banks that lent money to the company. However, when the vault was opened, only 296 kg of the 400 kg gold was found in it, media reports said.

In its defence, the CBI said that while handing over the gold to the liquidator, it was weighed individually and that was the reason for the discrepancy.

However, Justice PN Prakash refused to accept this submission. On the CBI Special Public Prosecutor asking for a probe by the CBI or National Investigation Agency instead of the state police, Justice PN Prakash in his order observed that “The law does not sanction such an inference”.

In 2012, a search was conducted in the office of Surana Corporation Limited in Chennai after a corruption case was registered against the company and officials of Minerals and Metals Trading Corporation of India (MMTC).

The allegation was that MMTC had shown undue favour to Surana for importing gold and silver.

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As much as 400.47 kg of gold in the form of bullions and ornaments were seized. The seized metal was kept in the lockers and vaults of Surana under the seal of CBI. The CBI in its arguments said that they handed over the 72 keys of the vaults to the Chennai principal special court for CBI cases.

In 2013, CBI had filed a closure report, saying the accused had not committed any offence and only violated certain circulars, for which departmental action was recommended. During the hearing, the CBI asked the special court to transfer the gold to the office of the Director-General of Foreign Trade (DGFT). However, Surana, challenged the transfer of gold.

Meanwhile, insolvency proceedings were initiated by SBI against Surana for pending dues of Rs 1,160 crore and the bank moved the court seeking the gold in order to resolve the dues from the company. On December 12, 2017, SBI and Surana filed a compromise in the court and sought a direction to hand over the gold to SBI, which was opposed by the CBI.

On July 16, 2019, the court directed the parties to approach the National Company Law Tribunal before and CBI was directed to hand over the the gold to SBI. On December 27, 2019, the NCLT ordered to hand over of the gold to the official liquidator in the presence of SBI.

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The High Court said on Friday said that had the gold been physically entrusted to the CBI Special Court, and gone missing from there, “the CBI would have cried foul from the rooftops and demanded the scalp of the Special Judge and his Property Clerk. The Special Judge and the Property Clerk would have been placed under suspension and would have even been arrested”.

Noting that “Caesar’s wife should be beyond suspicion”, the court directed the CB-CID’s Metro Wing in Chennai, which comes under the state government, to register a regular FIR for theft and entrust the investigation to an SP-rank officer to complete the probe within six months, reports said.