CHENNAI: More than 103kg gold worth at least Rs 45 crore seized in a raid by the CBI and kept in its ‘safe custody’ has gone missing. This came to public knowledge on Friday when the Madras high court ordered a probe by Tamil Nadu’s CB-CID.
The missing gold is part of 400.5kg in bullion and ornaments seized by the CBI in 2012 when it raided the office of Surana Corporation Ltd in Chennai. The gold was kept in the safes and vaults of Surana under the CBI’s lock and seal. The central agency said it had handed over the 72 keys of the safes and vaults to the Chennai principal special court for CBI cases.
The CBI claimed that during the seizure the gold bars were weighed all-together but while handing over to the liquidator, appointed for a settlement of debts between Surana and SBI, it was weighed individually and that was the reason for the discrepancy.
Refusing to accept the submission, Justice Prakash directed a CB-CID probe by an officer in the rank of superintendent of police to be completed in six months.
The CBI told Justice Prakash that its prestige would “go down” if the investigation is done by local police. To which Justice Prakash said: “…law does not sanction such an inference. All policemen must be trusted, and it does not lie in the mouth of one to say that CBI have special horns, whereas, local police have only a tail.”
While prosecuting the case, the CBI accused officials of Minerals & Metals Trading Corporation of India (MMTC) of showing undue favour to Surana in importing gold and silver. Subsequently, the CBI came to the conclusion that the gold did not have a bearing on a corruption case, and that it had, however, been imported in violation of the Foreign Trade Policy (FTP). Therefore, a separate case was registered in 2013, and the seized gold was transferred to the file of the new case. Later, the CBI concluded the probe and filed a closure report, holding that the accused had not committed any offence, but, by issuing the nominated agency certificate to Surana, had violated certain circulars, for which departmental action was recommended against some officials.
The agency also requested the special court to transfer the gold to the office of the director-general of foreign trade (DGFT) as the ownership of the gold is subject to the outcome of the departmental inquiry. Aggrieved, Surana challenged the transfer of gold to DGFT.
Meanwhile, insolvency proceedings were initiated by SBI against Surana for pending dues of Rs 1,160 crore. SBI moved the court asking for the gold. On December 12, 2017, SBI and Surana filed a compromise memo in court and sought a direction to handover the gold to SBI, which was opposed by the CBI.
On July 16, 2019, the court directed the parties to approach the NCLT before which the insolvency proceedings are pending to decide ownership of the gold. However, CBI was directed to hand over the possession of the gold to SBI.
On December 27, 2019, the NCLT ordered handing over of the gold to the official liquidator in the presence of SBI. To the shock and surprise of all, the total gold that was found weighed only 296.606kg. There was a shortage of 103.864kg, which the CBI was not able to properly account for.
The liquidator then moved the high court, which passed the order on Friday.