Customs grilling Kerala CM’s former IT fellow in gold smuggling case
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s former IT fellow, Arun Balachandran, appeared before the customs on Friday afternoon in Kochi for questioning in the sensational gold smuggling case following reports that he had played an important role in arranging for a flat right outside state secretariat for one of the main accused Swapna Suresh.
It is suspected that the location of the flat was aimed at facilitating smooth smuggling operations by creating a perception of proximity to power.
Balachandran, who is believed to be close to the former private secretary of the CM, told officials that he was asked to arrange a flat for Swapan Suresh by the former secretary, M Shivashankar, who is under the scanner in the case.
20 persons have been arrested so far and 5 are absconding or are to be extradited in the gold smuggling case, which is being probed by several agencies including the National Investigative Agency (NIA).
NIA has claimed that the smuggling network was linked to anti-national activities and possibly terror-funding.
The smuggling case has cast a shadow on the left front government in Kerala. The case surfaced on July 5 after 30 KG gold was seized from baggage that arrived from UAE in the name of an official of the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram.
Recently, Kerala higher education minister K T Jaleel’s name, too, got dragged into the matter upon revelation that another consignment to the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram in March weighing more than 4,000 kg had been received by him. Jaleel’s name also figured prominently in the call list of Swapna Suresh. However, the minister has denied any wrongdoing and said the consignment contained the holy book of Quran which was distributed among people in his constituency.
With the state assembly elections just eight months away, the opposition Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have announced a series of protests seeking the resignation of chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who is on the back foot due to the gold smuggling case.