In a sensational twist to the Kerala gold smuggling case, one of the main accused in the case has admitted the role of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the dollar smuggling to UAE in 2017.
Prime accused says a bundle of cash was sent to the CM
According to the reports, PS Sarith, one of the prime accused in the case, has stated before the Custom Departments that Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had taken a package containing a bundle of currency to UAE during one of his official trips. The incident took place in 2017 during Vijayan’s visit to the UAE, admitted the accused.
In his statement before the Customs under section 124 of the Customs Act, the accused Sarith said that in early 2017, he had received a call from the general administration department of the Kerala government saying that the Chief Minister had a plan to travel to the UAE.
Swapna Suresh, the main accused in the gold smuggling case
He added that the Consulate coordinated necessary arrangements for the delegation team of the Chief Minister. Swapna Suresh, the main accused in the gold smuggling case, had sought the contact number of M Sivasankar, then principal secretary to the CM, to handle the travel plans of Pinarayi Vijayan and others. Swapna was then executive secretary at the consulate and Consul General was Jamal Al-Zaabi.
Consul General asked her to direct him to collect a package which the Chief Minister had forgotten to carry
Sarith said that after Pinarayi Vijayan had travelled to UAE, Swapna had called him and informed him that the Consul General asked her to direct him to collect a package which the Chief Minister had forgotten to carry along with him to UAE. Subsequently, he went to the secretariat and collected a package from one Harikrishnan, who worked at the general administration department.
“This packet was rectangular in shape and was covered in a thick brown paper. On reaching the Consulate, out of curiosity, Sarith put the packet in the X-ray machine available in the Consulate and found that the packet contained a bundle of currency and some other items. He had confidentially conveyed this to Swapna,” said the report that quoted Sarith.
Accused collected currency from CM’s office and handed it over UAE consulate
As per the directions of Swapna, Sarith had handed over the package to Ahamed Al-Doukhi, the admin Attache at the Consulate, who was travelling to UAE to hand over that package to the Chief Minister on the directions of the Consul General.
As per the accused, Consul General Jamal Al-Zaabi had very personal relations with the LDF-led Kerala government and invited Kerala ministers for functions in the Consulate. Sarith said Al Zaabi had directed him to collect biodata of all the ministers and to find out the persons who are more influential to the ministers. The Consul General wanted Sarith to maintain good relations with the ministers, as per reports.
The Customs has mentioned the claim against Pinarayi Vijayan
The Customs has mentioned the claim against Pinarayi Vijayan in show-cause notices issued to the six persons named in the illegal export of dollars. The six — including Khaled Mohamed Al Shoukry, PS Sarith, Swapna Suresh, M Sivasankar, and two others in connection with the case. They have been told to file their reply within 30 days before the case can be adjudicated on the basis of the evidence on record.
The show-cause notice issued by the Customs
The show-cause notice issued by the Customs also has statements from Swapna Suresh, who confessed that Khaled and Jamal Al Zaabi had carried foreign currency many times illegally to UAE. In addition, Khaled had confirmed that foreign currency concealed in bags would not be detected by CISF during security checking at the airport.
The Customs said that the confessions were made by Consulate’s former staffer PS Sarith in his deposition in October. The Customs had come across illegal export of US $190,000 by the Consulate’s former financial head, Khaled Mohamed Al Shoukry, during its investigation in the gold smuggling case.
What is Kerala Gold Smuggling case?
The Kerala gold smuggling case has all the ingredients to be turned into a Bollywood thriller, involving globe-trotting investigation about the gold smuggling, politics, involvement of diplomats, terror angle and hawala links.
This particular case of gold smuggling by misusing diplomatic channels came to the fore on July 5, 2020, when the customs officials at the Thiruvananthapuram international airport confiscated baggage containing gold weighing over 30 kg and valued at around Rs 15 crore. This gold was inside diplomatic baggage that landed by air cargo and was addressed to the UAE consulate.
Acting on a specific tip-off that baggage was a part of a syndicate used to smuggle gold, the authorities found out that the luggage belonged to Swapna Suresh, a staffer at the UAE consulate. Later, M Sivasankar, Sandeep Nair, PS Sarith, Fazil Fareed and KT Jaleel were also accused in the case.
The Customs department initially started the investigation
The Customs department initially started the investigation, but the Ministry of Home Affairs on July 9 transferred the case to the National Investigation Agency, citing the case may have “serious implications for national security”.
The case has embroiled the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Kerala government in the state, which found itself in the eye of the storm kicked up by the preliminary investigation into the gold smuggling case. However, the alleged involvement of M Sivasankar, the principal secretary of the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in the gold smuggling case indicated that there could be involvement of other big-shot politicians too.
Earlier, CPM leader and former Assembly Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan’s name had also come up in the gold smuggling case.