4 Customs Deputy Commissioners arrested for ‘bribery’ get bail; CBI moves High Court

Mumbai: A special court here today granted bail to seven persons including four Customs Deputy Commissioners of Mumbai Customs in a bribery case, even as the CBI moved the Bombay High Court seeking their further custody.

CBI arrested Deputy Commissioners Mukesh Meena, Rajeev Kumar Singh, Sandeep Yadav and Sudarshan Meena on May 1.

While the central agency said it wanted to unearth the larger conspiracy, the special CBI court judge, P K Sharma, said it was making “mountain out of a molehill”.

The agency arrested the four Customs Deputy Commissioners and two others on May 1 for allegedly demanding a bribe of Rs 50 lakh from an importer to clear his two consignments. They were remanded in CBI custody for three days. Another person was arrested later.

The special court yesterday remanded all of them in judicial custody even as the CBI sought their further custody.

The agency today moved the Bombay High Court, seeking custody of the accused.

As the bail pleas of the accused came up before the lower court later in the day, the CBI told the judge that it had moved the high court.

Judge P K Sharma said he was not concerned with that application and asked the CBI to file a reply to bail pleas.

The CBI lawyer said it needed more time to investigate the case as it is part of a larger conspiracy in which higher officials could be involved. The accused didn’t cooperate during the initial CBI custody, the lawyer said.

The judge, however, noted that the investigation was substantially over, and said it appeared that the prosecution was making “mountain out of a mole(hill)”.

The agency will need some time for obtaining sanction from the government to prosecute the Customs officials, and the accused cannot remain in jail in the meanwhile, as the offence is not punishable with death or imprisonment for life, he said and granted bail to all the seven accused.

In its petition in the high court today, the CBI sought custody of the accused till May 13.

“This is a case of larger conspiracy, wherein all three Preventive and Intelligence units of Customs — Rummaging and Intelligence, Marine and Preventive Wing, and Special Intelligence and Investigation Branch — have a criminal meeting of mind to obtain illegal gratification in the guise of helping importers,” the petition said.

Preliminary investigation revealed involvement of customs house agents who helped the accused in collection and laundering of the bribe amount, and these agents were to be apprehended and “bribe amount of Rs 11 lakh” paid to one of them was yet to be recovered, the CBI said.

The probe also revealed that some of the imported goods were pilfered by Customs officials, the CBI said in the petition, which came up before Justice Bharati Dangre.

Justice Dangre posted it to May 7 for hearing.

On May 1, the CBI arrested deputy commissioners Mukesh Meena, Rajeev Kumar Singh, Sandeep Yadav and Sudarshan Meena.

It also arrested Manish Singh, a superintendent, and a private individual named Nilesh Singh. Another Customs officer, Akshat Rathod, was arrested later.

Nilesh Singh was arrested while accepting Rs 5 lakh, a part payment of the bribe, at Customs Colony in Powai, allegedly at the behest of Mukesh Meena, the CBI had claimed.