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CBI drops trial against five senior Customs officers in smuggling case
August, 14th 2014

In what seems a controversial move, CBI has withdrawn prosecution against five senior officers of Indian Customs and Central Excise in a 14-year-old sensational smuggling case involving an Uzbek woman.

CBI had submitted a charge-sheet in 2006 against the said officers and the trial against them is on at special court in Tis Hazari after charges had been framed by the court. CBI Director Ranjit Sinha confirmed to ET that CBI has withdrawn prosecution in the matter. "The Finance Ministry and Attorney General (AG) have given an opinion that the prosecution be dropped. CBI is doing the same," Sinha told ET on Thursday.

The five senior officers are VK Singh Kushwaha, HR Bhima Shankar, Rajiv Gupta, Virender Kumar Choudhary and Upendra Gupta all still hold senior positions and have gone on to become Joint Commissioners. 27 other junior Customs officers of Group B and C level, who were also charged by the CBI, will also be off the hook now. Top CBI officials pointed out that former Finance Secretary RS Gujral has written to then CBI Director AP Singh on March 1, 2012 with the approval of the then Finance Minister, asking the agency to apply to the trial judge for a closure of the case against the five top officers. Then AG, GE Vahanvati, gave such a legal opinion as well, CBI says.

The case dates back to August 28, 2000 when a Customs Officer had detained a 26-year-old Uzbek woman, Olga Kozireva, at the Delhi International Airport when she arrived here from Bishkek by Kyrgyzstan Airlines flight. She was walking through the Green Channel with 27 bags weighing a total of 2200 kilograms duly registered on her air ticket when she was stopped and her baggage checked which revealed she was carrying 81000 yards of Chinese silk from Uzbekistan which was a prohibited item. However, further investigation revealed that she had flown into India hundreds of times since 1997 and 68 times in year 2000 already with similar consignments but was never checked by the Customs authorities. It was alleged that Customs authorities were paid heavy bribes to let the consignments through.

CBI took over the case in the year 2001 and after a prolonged investigation asked the Finance Ministry for sanction to prosecute nine group A officers and 35 Group B and C officers in the matter. The Finance Ministry, in 2006, granted sanction to prosecute only five Group A officers and 27 others. The CBI trial against these Customs officers is since going on in the Tis Hazari courts.

VK Singh Kushwaha was then the Additional Commissioner (Customs) at the Delhi Airport while the four other Group A officers were all deputy commissioners. It is believed that the former Attorney General, GE Vahanvati, gave an opinion in 2011 that the departmental action taken by the Finance Ministry in the matter was sufficient and criminal action could be dropped against the five senior officers. CBI's action now to drop prosecution in the case may also let off the hook the 27 other officers.

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