Gold smuggling case sparks political row in Kerala
THIRUVANANTHPURAM: The case involving the smuggling of 30 kg gold in Kerala will be taken over by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the Union Home Ministry declared today, saying the “organised smuggling operation may have serious implications for national security”.
A team of Central Bureau Investigation (CBI) reached Kochi Customs Office on Wednesday. Sources said that CBI has sought a preliminary report from the Customs on the developments in the case.
The gold, concealed in a diplomatic package linked to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). consulate in the state, was detected by the Customs Department at the Thiruvananthapuram airport last week.
A former employee at the UAE Consulate, Swapna Suresh, who was also a marketing officer working on contract for one of the firms linked to the Kerala government’s Information Technology department, is among those who staked claim to the baggage, said customs sources.
The sources added that Customs has sought permission from the Ministry of External Affairs(MEA) to question a person from the UAE consulate who is allegedly involved in the scam. They also doubt that someone from the UAE consulate is helping Ms Swapna Suresh in this matter.
Sources say that Swapna also got a conduct certificate from the UAE consulate before joining as operations manager at KSITI and now officials are doubting that someone is helping Swapna from inside the consulate. The CBI team has meanwhile started questioning the wife of Sandeep Nair (absconding suspect) in the Customs preventive office.
Earlier in the day, Customs officials names Sandeep Nair who is involved along with Sarith Kumar and Swapna Suresh and said he is absconding.
Officials said that Sandeep, the partner in crime with Sarith, is on the run but the department is hopeful that they will be able to crack the entire chain of crime in 2 days. Meanwhile, late-night raids at the flat of Swapna Suresh continued as Police took charge of CCTV footage from the building.
The UAE Embassy in India on Tuesday said that the authorities had launched an independent investigation into the gold smuggling case. They will not be spared.
“The authorities in the UAE have launched an investigation to find out who sent the cargo containing gold to the address of the UAE consulate,” the UAE Embassy in New Delhi said in a tweet.
On July 5, Customs officials seized 30 kg of gold worth Rs.15 crore at the Thiruvananthapuram Airport from a diplomatic cargo addressed to a person in the UAE Consulate. Sarith Kumar, who worked at the UAE Consulate was arrested in this regard.
Reportedly, he told the Customs about the role of Swapna Suresh, an ex-Consulate employee now working as the manager of the Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited.
The case took a political turn after photos with Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan surfaced. It has been alleged that Swapna has links with the CM and has been seen with him at parties when she was working at the UAE Consulate.
Following the backlash over her appointment, she was sacked by the state government. Moreover, Principal Secretary to CM M Sivasankar has been replaced after his role in hiring Suresh came under the scanner. CM Vijayan wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday, seeking a thorough investigation and promising all possible support.
A political row has broken out in India after gold was found being smuggled into the country in diplomatic baggage. The nod from the home ministry came amid a political firestorm in the state over the case, in which the opposition in the state – the Congress and the BJP have alleged the involvement of the Left Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s office. Chief Minister Vijayan has denied that anyone from his office made to attempts to shield any suspect in the case.
“This controversial woman in gold smuggling case has no connection with the Chief Minister’s Office or IT department. How can this new gold smuggling case anyway related to state government?
The parcel did not come to any of the state government agency. The parcel came for UAE consulate. If there is any failure how can state government be responsible? The state government has no role in it,” Mr Vijayan had said.
In his letter seeking the PM’s intervention, Mr Vijayan wrote, “The case has serious implications as this undermines the economy of the Nation. In fact, it has more than one angle warranting a thorough investigation”.
The woman suspected by the Customs department to have played a key role in the gold-smuggling racket at the Thiruvananthapuram airport, filed an application for anticipatory bail before the Kerala High Court on Thursday.
In her petition, she claimed she was being falsely implicated in the case and that she had contacted the Customs officer at the airport on the directions of Rashid Khamis Al Shameli, who holds acting charge of the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram, regarding the delay in his consignment.
The same day, Sarith Kumar, who previously worked as a PRO with the UAE Consulate, was arrested by Customs officials in connection with the smuggling of gold. Kumar, during questioning, named Swapna Suresh as an accomplice.
In her plea for anticipatory bail, Ms Suresh claimed she contacted the Customs officer through phone “as per the instruction from Consulate General as a part of her official work”. “But now, the petitioner realised that the media is spreading numerous false stories alleging the involvement of the petitioner in the smuggling activity,” it said.
“The petitioner is living with her family consisting of her husband and two children, the younger son who is studying in third standard and an elder daughter who is studying for the second year degree course. The petitioner belongs to a respectable family and has no criminal antecedents.
Suresh’s alleged role in the gold smuggling racket and her connections to former principal secretary M Sivasankar, under whom she worked as a contract staff with the state government’s flagship Space Park project, has snowballed into a major controversy in Kerala.
(With Agency Inputs).