230kg gold smuggled via diplomatic route: Probe
The gold was contained in a carton with an assortment of pipes, taps, and door handles, food and electronic items. The 24-carat gold — the best quality — estimated to be worth at least Rs 15 crore was hidden inside the pipes.Updated: Jul 20, 2020 02:40 IST
A multi-agency team probing the seizure of 30 kg of gold from the Thiruvananthapuram airport cargo terminal on July 5 found that at least 230 kg of gold has been smuggled into the country in similar fashion, using some employees of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) diplomatic mission in the Kerala capital over the past year, a senior officer familiar with the investigation said.
The gold was contained in a carton with an assortment of pipes, taps, and door handles, food and electronic items. The 24-carat gold — the best quality — estimated to be worth at least Rs 15 crore was hidden inside the pipes.
“At least 13 such consignments came to the country in one year, and they all passed without any check due to diplomatic immunity. Some of them were heavier than the latest consignment, which weighed 70 kg. We are also probing some events organised by state government departments,” the officer cited above sai on condition of anonymity, adding that all people whose names cropped up during the questioning will be summoned.
This include chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s deposed secretary M Sivasankar and former information technology fellow Arun Balachandran. Last week, customs officers questioned Sivasankar for nine hours. The team is also likely to question a minister in the Vijayan government whose number appeared in the call list of former IT consultant Swapna Suresh, which was leaked to the media. Suresh is the second accused in the case; the first was P. Sarith Kumar, who went to the cargo terminal to pick up the consignment
Meanwhile, reports from Dubai on Malayalam TV channels said that the third accused in the case, Faizal Fareed, was arrested in the city and he will be extradited soon. On the request of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) , Interpol issued a blue corner notice against Fareed. A resident of Thrissur, he is a key operative in the smuggling racket, according to the NIA. He is reportedly running a gym and garage in Dubai.
The NIA has arrested four people and the customs department 13 in connection with the case. The team has also started a massive operation to trace the smuggled gold and seized 10 kg from two jewellers in Kozhikkode on Saturday, the officer cited above said adding that once the investigation gathered speed, many who were part of the smuggling syndicate had come up with voluntary disclosures. But he admitted that it was difficult to trace all smuggled gold.
The team has conducted raids in last two days including two apartments belonging to Suresh and a business establishment of the third suspect, Sandip Nair, in the state capital and seized documents.
The NIA filed a first information report (FIR) on July 10 against Sarith Kumar, who was arrested by customs officials on the day the gold was seized.
Five days later, Suresh and Nair, a friend of hers, were arrested from a hideout in Bangaluru. A a Malappuram-based businessman, K T Rameez, was held by the customs on July 15 and NIA issued a blue corner notice against Fareed. All five were charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act . Chief minister Vijayan’s powerful secretary was suspended after reports surfaced that he was close to Suresh.
State opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala on Sunday asked investigating agencies to question CM Vijayan. “Involvement of his two key aides (Sivasankar and Balachandran) surfaced. Now he can’t wash off his hands. He will have to be grilled for more details,” he said.