Kerala

UAE diplomat gives voluntary statement to Customs

A key official at the consulate of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) here has voluntarily talked to Customs officers investigating the illegal import of gold from Dubai via an air-shipment addressed to the office of the diplomatic mission in Kerala.

Commissioner of Customs, Sumit Kumar, who is heading the sensitive inquiry, told The Hindu that enforcers had moved the Union Ministry of External Affairs for permission from the UAE to imbue the diplomat’s statement with a measure of legality under Section 108 of the Customs Act. “Otherwise, it would be a simple statement without any legal value,” he said.

Such an inclusion would empower the Customs investigators to identify and prosecute the people who financed, organised and implemented the complex operation using diplomatic goodwill and international covenants as a cover.

Legal immunity

Mr. Kumar said diplomats had legal immunity under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention. Hence, investigating agencies had no power to summon them, seek evidence or conduct searches on person and premises. However, such persons could voluntarily give statements, which the UAE official has done commendably.

Another officer said the diplomat had talked to the investigators for over 12 hours. He had denied he had imported the shipment, which contained mundane everyday items available off the shelf in Kerala. (Investigators had found 30 kg of gold valued at ₹15 crore by a conservative estimate inside the shipment.) However, the accused had used a letter purportedly written by the official that gave authority to the suspect to clear the freight imported in the name of the UAE consulate from the air cargo complex here. He had used the questionable document to portray the shipment as diplomatic baggage immune to Customs inspection.

Denies role

Investigators said the diplomat had categorically stated that he did not import the shipment, authorise its clearance and his signature on the document was forged. The Customs would send the official paper to the government examiner for questioned documents to verify whether it was a genuine one.

Meanwhile, the Gulf-end of the gold smuggling probe appeared focussed on a Kochi-based businessman. He owned a trading and grocery company in the UAE.

Investigators suspect he could be a front for “some powerful businessman” who had the wherewithal to invest considerable money in the smuggling run.

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Printable version | Aug 12, 2020 3:38:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/uae-diplomat-gives-voluntary-statement-to-customs/article32025370.ece

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