NEW DELHI

Ex-diplomat, wife absconding

NEW DELHI OCT. 3. The sudden disappearance of a former Swedish diplomat and his wife -- both accused of smuggling out foreign currency -- has abruptly halted legal proceedings in this high-profile case. With both the accused absconding, counting their plausible assets here for confiscation is all that seems to be on.

A former Ambassador of Sweden to Syria and Lebanon, Rolf Gustav Richard Gauffin, along with his wife Jeanne Francoise Mary Marguer Gauffin, has successfully dodged authorities here and escaped to Europe. An interview in a leading Swedish daily in Stockholm after his escape confirmed this.

The Gauffin saga began in December last year with the arrest of the couple by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. They were caught just before they were to board a flight for Singapore. Searches resulted in the recovery of foreign currency worth about Rs. 5 crores.

Though Gauffin was no longer a diplomat, he and his wife were holding diplomatic passports. According to the DRI officials, this helped the couple to smuggle out large amounts of foreign currency. Subsequently, the two were arrested under relevant sections of the Customs Act.

In January, both the accused were served notices under the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Act (COFEPOSA). This meant that they would be in preventive detention till the COFEPOSA Advisory Board sent a recommendation on the issue.

As it turned out, Gauffin and his wife were granted bail by a Delhi court in the case registered under the Customs Act within a week after they were detained under COFEPOSA. They were asked to furnish a bail bond of Rs. 10 lakhs each and instructed not to leave India. But this was meaningless as long as the COFEPOSA notice issued to them remained in effect.

It is understood that the couple even had problems in raising the money to be deposited with the court. By March 22, the tide began to turn in favour of the Gauffins, with the Advisory Board recommending that the COFEPOSA order be lifted.

But it was only by April 18 that the couple managed to collect the money needed. A representative on behalf of the Swedish Embassy here signed as a witness on the bail papers. Another condition of the bail was that Gauffin and his wife be present in all the hearings of the case.

The couple kept their word for the next three hearings. Strangely, no address was given on the bail papers as the two had asked for more time till they could furnish one. This point was brought up by the investigating agency during one of the hearings, but the Gauffins managed to evade it under some plea or the other.

Then suddenly, the two stopped appearing in the court. After a few days of absenteeism, the court here issued non-bailable warrants against them and declared them as proclaimed offenders. A red alert was sounded by investigative agencies to prevent the couple from making good their escape.

According to sources, the Gauffins managed to escape out of the country via Nepal. Thus, while officials continue to grapple with legal proceedings here, the two accused are staying away from India.

Having served at a high position in the Swedish Embassy here between 1983 and 1987, Gauffin is said to have many close friends in the Capital's elite circuit. In fact, he used to stay at the India International Centre and had chosen Lodi Gardens as the venue for many of his illegal transactions.

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