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NIA gets a dressing down from HC as key accused in terror funding case is granted bail


New Delhi, Sep 14: The Delhi High Court which granted bail to Kashmiri businessman Zahoor Watali, in connection with the terror funding case, pulled up the NIA.

The court said there was no prima facie material to show that 70-year-old Zahoor Ahmad Shah Watali was involved in the conspiracy.

NIA gets a dressing down from HC as key accused in terror funding case is granted bail

"The court is not satisfied at this stage that there is prima facie material to show the involvement of Watali in any criminal conspiracy with the other accused, justifying the accusations for the offences under section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC or sections 121 (waging or attempting to wage war against India), 121-A (conspiracy to wage war), or 124-A (sedition) of the IPC," a bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel said.

"The documents (seized in the case) do not enable this court to prima facie conclude, as the trial court has in its order stated, that appellant (Watali) received money from A-1 (LeT chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed) or PHC (Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi) or others and was passing on the said funds to the Hurriyat leaders for funding terrorist activities and stone pelting," the High Court said.

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The bench set aside the trial court's June 8 order by which the businessman was denied bail and directed that Watali be released from jail after furnishing a personal bond of Rs two lakh and two sureties of the same amount.

Watali was arrested on August 17 last year by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

Watali, Hafiz Saeed, Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahudeen and nine others have been accused by the NIA of "conspiring to wage war against the government" and fomenting trouble in the Kashmir valley.

In its 40-page bail order, the bench directed Watali not to influence or intimidate prospective prosecution witnesses or tamper with the evidence in the case.

It has directed Watali to surrender his passport before the trial court and said he will not travel abroad without prior permission of the court.

Further, the bench asked the businessman to report to the investigating officer of the case as and when required and that he shall provide his contact number and current address to the officer.

"If there is any breach of these conditions, it will be open to the NIA to apply to the trial court for cancellation of bail," the high court said.

In its charge sheet, the NIA has alleged that Watali received money from accused Syed, ISI of Pakistan, the Pakistan High Commission here and from a source in Dubai.

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The money was then remitted to the leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a conglomerate of 26 political/social/religious organisations whose agenda is to create an atmosphere conducive to the attainment of their goal in Jammu and Kashmir of secession from the Union of India and to separatists and stone-pelters, the NIA alleged. Further, the separatist leaders have been accused of taking a cut of the money.

The high court said the documents on record do not prima facie conclude that Watali had received money from Syed or Pakistan High Commission or that he was passing on the funds to the Hurriyat leaders for funding terrorist activities and stone pelting.

Opposing the bail plea, the NIA had contended that the sources from which the accused had received funds could not be satisfactorily explained by Watali.

If released on bail, he might hamper the probe and flee from justice, NIA contended.

Watali had sought bail claiming that no offence under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) was made out against him in the charge sheet.

His counsel said the probe in the case was already concluded and the charge sheet was filed.

The bench said in the order neither any previous criminal involvement of Watali has been shown nor the possibility of him fleeing from justice if released on bail.

"The record shows that Watali is a septuagenarian and is suffering from various medical ailments. He has been in judicial custody for more than a year. It has been more than six months since the charge sheet has been filed. He is not shown to have tampered with the evidence or interfered with any of the prospective/protected witnesses," it said.

Syed has been accused of using Watali's services for passing on money to the separatists and some individuals, who were actively indulging in stone-pelting in the valley.

The NIA has chargesheeted Pakistan-based terrorists Syed and Salahuddin, besides 10 others, with criminal conspiracy, sedition and provisions of the UAPA.

Besides Syed, Salahuddin and Watali, the agency has named hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani's son-in-law Altaf Shah alias Altaf Fantoosh and Bashir Ahmad Bhat in the charge sheet.

Hurriyat Conference leaders Nayeem Ahmad Khan, Farooq Ahmad Dar alias Bitta Karate, Mohammad Akbar Khanday and Raja Mehrajuddin Kalwal have also been chargesheeted by the agency in the terror-funding case.

Barring, Syed and Salahuddin, the rest of the accused are currently in judicial custody.

Two of the accused -- freelance photojournalist Kamran Yusuf and Javed Ahmad Bhat -- both accused of stone-pelting, were earlier granted bail by the court.

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