A major gold smuggling case has rocked the state of Kerala. And the political backlash is aimed at the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
The gold smuggling racket was reported last week when the Customs officials seized 30 kilograms of gold, valued at Rs. 15 crores at the Thiruvananthapuram airport from a diplomatic cargo addressed to a person at the UAE Consulate-General..
At the centre of the gold smuggling racket are a former PRO at the UAE Consulate General Sarith Kumar and Swapna Suresha, an ex-UAE consulate officer who was later serving as a liaisoning officer for one of the firms linked to Kerala government’s IT Department. She was appointed for six months on contractual basis.
As per Customs, Sarith Kumar is no longer associated with the Consulate but he took advantage of the privileges and immunities enjoyed by diplomatic missions. However, the smuggling bid was foiled and Sarith who had reached the airport to collect the cargo was apprehended.
According to Customs Commissioner Surith Kumar, the UAE Consulate General has disowned the cargo in question and it has also “promised to co-operate with the investigation.”
Meanwhile, Customs sources suggest that Sarith Kumar is not the only person of interest here. An official has been quoted by India Today as saying, “There are a few other people who have expressed interest or lobbied for this particular consignment. Swapna Suresh, who was a former employee at the UAE consulate is one among them. We are hoping that she would cooperate with us.” She was reportedly on the run at the time of writing this story.
NDTV too has quoted sources from the Chief Minister’s Office as saying, “”The contract of the concerned person has been terminated since the serious allegations emerged.”
What has however heated political atmosphere in Kerala is the removal of Kerala’s IT Principal Secretary M Sivasankar as the Secretary to the Chief Minister.
Ramesh Chennithala, Leader Of Opposition in the Kerala Legislative Assembly tweeted, “I demand a CBI inquiry in the gold smuggling case. The accused is closely connected with Kerala’s IT secretary, who is also secretary of CM @vijayanpinarayi. It’s quite clear now that CM’s office and his secretary is involved in this case.”
I demand a CBI inquiry in the gold smuggling case. The accused is closely connected with Kerala's IT secretary, who is also secretary of CM @vijayanpinarayi. It's quite clear now that CM's office and his secretary is involved in this case.#CorruptLDFGovt #PinarayiMustAnswer pic.twitter.com/gxRQYEiofz
— Ramesh Chennithala (@chennithala) July 6, 2020
Chennithala also said, “The Chief Minister’s Principal Secretary, Sivasankaran, is turning into a major point of all the deals taking place in the state, and the gold smuggling case is of much higher proportion and a CBI investigation is necessary for this case. The woman involved in the controversy, Swapna Suresh, is working in the marketing and liaison section of the Kerala IT department, which is directly under the Chief Minister.”
BJP state president K Surendran too is reported to have asked Vijayan to disclose the connection between his Principal secretary and Swapna Suresh.
The gold smuggling racket and the allegations of a nexus between Sivasankar and former UAE Consulate employees Sarith and Swapna Suresh has thus kicked a political storm in Kerala. Facing the storm is Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan. Sivasankar was a part of Vijayan’s office right from his initial days as the Kerala CM.
The matter becomes particularly sensitive because a question of diplomatic cargo is involved and the allegations of involvement being levelled go right upto a senior IAS officer who was serving in the Chief Minister’s Office.