The Central Bureau of Investigation set up an 'internal inquiry' under an superintendent of police-ranked officer after 103 kg gold out of a total 400 kg, seized and sealed by it eight years ago, was found missing, but the probe is yet to be completed as COVID-19-induced restrictions delayed it, officials said.
The internal inquiry is underway and strict action will be taken if any adverse role of any CBI official surfaces, the CBI spokesperson said in a statement on Saturday evening.
The Madras high court had on Friday directed the Tamil Nadu Crime Branch-CID police to probe the case of 'missing' gold, which left the country's premier investigating agency red-faced.
The 'missing' gold is part of 400.47-kg bullion and ornaments confiscated by the CBI when it carried out searches at the office of Surana Corporation Ltd in Chennai in 2012 in a case pertaining to alleged favours extended by officials of Minerals and Metals Trading Corporation of India (MMTC) to the firm in import of gold and silver.
When the vaults, kept in Surana premises, were opened between February 27 and February 29 in the presence of bank officials and official liquidator for Surana, the seized gold was 103 kg short with CBI seals still intact.
Sources in the agency said when the matter came to the notice it was clear that seals were intact so the first move was to ascertain what could have happened.
They said that in case such a thing happened from 'malkhana' of the CBI immediate action could have been initiated but since the gold was in sealed vaults in the premises of Surana it was important to understand what could have happened before alleging theft.
An inquiry under a Superintendent of Police-ranked officer was ordered in March but soon after the COVID-19-induced lockdown came into force, making it difficult to call people and record statements, they said.
The officers involved in the seizure in 2012 had retired and it was difficult to track them during the lockdown, they said.
In the meantime, Surana approached the high court following which a decision was taken to wait for its orders, they said.
In statement issued late Saturday evening, CBI spokesperson R K Gaur clarified the position that the inventorised gold was not kept in 'malkhana (case property room)' of the CBI. Rather, it was kept in the premises of Surana only under the seal.
'As per the directions of the Hon'ble High Court the vaults were opened in the presence of official liquidator, officials belonging to six banks and independent witnesses and inspected from 27/02/2020 to 29/02/2020 to hand over the gold to the lender banks of Surana Corporation. The seals affixed on the vaults were found intact. However, gold weighed only 296.66 kg,' the statement said.
'As the discrepancy between the quantity mentioned in search memo and as per the weight came to notice, CBI promptly ordered an internal inquiry by a senior officer to look into the role of its officials, if any,' it said.
The spokesperson said while the inquiry was on, the petition was filed in the high court, which passed an order on December 11.
The CBI's internal inquiry continues and if any adverse role of any CBI official surfaces, strict action will be taken against them, it said.
The high court had noted, 'Had any property been lost either from the malkhana (property room) of the court or from the malkhana of the CBI, what should have been done? The answer to this question is obvious.
'A regular FIR for theft should have been registered in the jurisdictional police station and the police investigation under Chapter XII of Cr.P.C. should have been conducted.'
'At the end of the investigation, the Investigating Officer may come to the conclusion that the actual gold that was seized was only 296.606 kg, but it was mistakenly entered in the inventory as 400.47 kilogram.
'Strangely, this has not been done in this case till date. One can understand if the difference had been a few grams, but this Court is unable to fathom as to how there could be a discrepancy of more than 100 kilogram in the weight of gold. Gold will not diminish in weight like ganja by efflux of time,' it said.