Over a dozen firms engaged in cross-LoC trade since October 2008 are under the National Investigation Agency (NIA) scanner as part of its probe against separatist leaders allegedly receiving terror-funding by Pakistan-based organisations to stoke unrest in the Kashmir Valley.
Top NIA sources said that "dubious transactions" of several traders, whose names have been withheld considering the gravity of the case, raised suspicions about their close connections with banned Pakistan-based Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist organisations.
NIA investigators also found inputs regarding channelling of money to Kashmiri separatist leaders through these "suspected" traders. The firms run by these traders are engaged in barter trade with some Pakistan-based individuals or companies and were found to be under-invoicing the import of goods, like leather articles, dry fruits -- especially dates and California almonds (badam giri) -- surgical instruments, zinc and oil seeds.
The NIA suspects that "crores of rupees" had been handed over to separatist leaders by the LeT, Hizb and Pakistan's spy agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) through these traders and other sources for fuelling the prolonged unrest in the Valley last year after the killing of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani on July 8.
The agency has seized several bank accounts and ledgers of these traders who are active in the cross-border trade with Pakistan-administered Kashmir that was allowed in October 2008 as a major confidence-building measure between India and Pakistan.
The NIA has alleged that since the cross-LoC trade began, some businessmen "under- or over-invoiced" their bills, and the difference in payment was later used for promoting subversive activities in the Valley.
The counter-terror agency is also investigating the inflow of money routed during the cross-border trade -- which is against the trade rules of the barter system under which only goods can be exchanged, an official told IANS.
The trade is conducted at two points across the Line of Control -- the de facto boundary in Kashmir between India and Pakistan: Chakan-da-bagh-Rawalakote route in Jammu and Salamabad-Chokoti in Kashmir.
The NIA's move comes after the agency converted a May 19 preliminary enquiry against Hurriyat Chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani and his close aide and Hurriyat provincial President Nayeem Khan, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader Farooq Ahmed Dar alias "Bitta Karate" and Tehreek-e-Hurriyat leader Ghazi Javed Baba into a regular case.
The preliminary enquiry was converted into an FIR against Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed and other Pakistan-based terror agencies last week.
The FIR, which does not name any of the separatist leaders, was registered under legal provisions dealing with waging war or attempting to wage war against India, criminal conspiracy, and under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Hafeez Saeed, Pakistan-based chief of Jamaat-ul Dawah, the front of the banned LeT, has been named in the NIA's FIR.
The NIA has so far questioned over half a dozen people, including Geelani's son-in-law Altaf Ahmed Shah, in connection with the case.
Last week, the NIA carried out raids at 26 places and the following day at seven places across Srinagar, Delhi and Haryana in connection with the terror-funding probe.
This is the first time since the rise of militancy in Kashmir in the early 1990s that a central probe agency has carried out raids in connection with funding of separatists.
The NIA investigation seeks to identify the chain of players behind the financing of terrorist activities, including those who throw stones at security forces, burn down schools and damage government establishments.