KOCHI: Close on the heel of the appointment of senior lawyer M K Damodaran as legal adviser to the Chief Minister and his subsequent back-out following an uproar, the decision by a counsel of the National Investigation Agency (NIA)to appear for persons accused in a gold smuggling case has triggered a fresh controversy, with Customs Commissioner K N Raghavan writing to the NIA Director seeking to prevent the counsel from appearing in the case.
In a letter addressed the NIA Director General, the Cochin Customs Commissioner stated that NIA’s Special Public Prosecutor M Ajay had appeared for former civil police officer Jabin K Basheer and Shinoy K Mohandas on a petition challenging their preventive detention under provisions of the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act (Cofeposa).
Speaking to ‘Express’, Customs officials said legally there was nothing wrong in Ajay appearing in the High Court for persons accused in the Muvattupuzha gold smuggling case. But, ethically it was not ‘right’ as there would be conflict of interest. “It is not a right precedence that a government agency’s counsel appears against the Union of India in matters related to revenue or preventive detention,” they said.
Ajay, a Special Pubic Prosecutor with the NIA, had appeared for the agency at the High Court in various cases, including the sensational palm-chopping case. A High Court Bench is currently hearing petitions challenging preventive detention of five persons accused in the Muvattupuzha gold smuggling case. Kingpin of the smuggling racket P A Noushad, his brother P A Faizal and Yasir Ibnu Muhammed are the other accused. All the five persons are currently in preventive detention at the Poojappura Central Prison, under provisions of the Cofeposa.
Noushad had smuggled in gold worth `400 crore between 2013 and 2015, with the help of Jabin who was on deputation in the Immigration wing of the Cochin International Airport and Shinoy, a former ground handling staff at the airport.
Speaking to ‘Express’, Ajay said, “I haven’t seen any such letter. So, I can’t comment specifically on its contents. I am appointed as Special Public Prosecutor for the NIA. The appointment order does not impose any condition on me not to appear against any other party except the NIA. I haven’t done so, nor will I do so as long as I hold the post.
I take it as a complement that the Commissioner of Customs does not want me to appear against his department. If they have got nothing to hide, why fear any lawyer?”