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After 21 years Alemao brothers go scot-free in smuggling case

Panaji: The judgment came after 23 long years and when it was delivered by the two-judge bench of the high court of Bombay at Goa on Wednesday, it brought out all the drama that happened over two decades: Magical realism and a high-octane movie that felt like a piece of fiction.

At the end of it, former Goa chief minister and current Benaulim MLA Churchill Alemao was pronounced not guilty of smuggling gold and the fine of Rs 50 lakh imposed on him by the customs collector and customs tribunal was set aside by the high court.

The customs collector in the October 14, 1994 order held that Alemao and his two brothers—former urban development minister Joaquim Alemao and late Ciabro Alemao—along with Roy Miranda, Anton Fernandes, Anthony Rodrigues and Subhash Pandey were guilty of smuggling gold.

While Joaquim was fined Rs 30 lakh, Ciabro was fined Rs 15 lakh, Subhash Rs 5 lakh, Roy and Anton Rs 1 lakh each, and Anthony was fined Rs 50,000.

The saga dates to May 16, 1991 and the death of Alvernaz, a brother of the Alemaos.

In 1991, Costao Fernandes, an intelligence officer attached to the Customs House at Mormugaom, got "credible" information that the Alemao brothers, including Churchill, and their associates were planning to smuggle a huge quantity of gold into the country.

On May 16, Fernandes chased and stopped Alvernaz with the "smuggled gold" and in the ensuing scuffle and knife-fight, Alvernaz was grievously injured and later succumbed to his injuries. On June 7, 1991, the CBi registered a crime against Fernandes for murdering Alvernaz. On February 20, 1996, after the case reached the Supreme Court, all proceedings against Fernandes was quashed by the apex court.

Meanwhile, a case was filed with the customs collector against Alemao brothers and their associates and besides imposing fines, the collector ordered the confiscation of the Contessa, the Maruti car and the scooter, following which the Alemaos and their associates filed an appeal before the Customs, Excise & Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT) on January 20, 1995.

On December 13, 2004, the CESTAT dismissed the appeal by Alemaos. On January 3, 2005, the deputy commissioner of customs served letters on Alemaos and their associates to pay the penalties. A detention notice followed on February 1, 2005. An appeal was filed in the high court on February 14, 2005.

A division bench comprising justices G S Patel and Nutan D Sardessai observed, "CESTAT, instead of appreciating this entirely self-evident position, proceeded to hold that the Supreme Court in the Costao Fernandes case before it had found there to be smuggled gold."

Referring to the apex court order, the high court said the tribunal "would have us believe" that the Supreme Court 'concluded' that there was gold worth Rs 8 crore in the car Fernandes intercepted, and that the Supreme Court was 'satisfied' with the presence of gold in the battery-type boxes in the Contessa's boot. "That question was never before the Supreme Court for decision," the high court noted.

Referring to the customs claim that the gold weighed 250kg and was of the value of Rs 8 crores, the high court held that there is no valuation report and no chemical or other analysis. The customs had relied on the statement of its officer Costao Fernandes about the gold.

"All we have is Fernandes' statement. That is all," the high court observed.

The high court also deprecated the language of the CESTAT. "Churchill Alemao started his life as a tea-boy and rose to become the chief minister of Goa. Democracy at its very best," the CESTAT order had stated.

"We fail to understand what, if anything, this is supposed to mean. That those who stand for elections and rise to the highest echelons of political prominence should be the only elite? Or that no tea vendor may so aspire? We dare say the CESTAT member who wrote this would be rather more reticent today. That statement says far more about the writer's complete lack of understanding of the fundamentals of a democratic republic governed by the rule of law than he imagines," the high court observed.


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Source: After 21 years Alemao brothers go scot-free in smuggling case

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