Customs question Kerala CM’s former secretary in gold smuggling case
The Customs Department on Tuesday questioned Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s former principal secretary M Sivasankar in the gold smuggling case while a minister of state was forced to defend himself after his phone number figured in the call list of key accused Swapna Suresh.
Phone call lists of first accused Sarith Kumar and second accused Swapna Suresh were leaked to the media. In Swapna’s list there were many calls to Sivasankar and higher education minister K T Jaleel.
On July 5 the Customs had seized 30 kg of gold from an air cargo consignment from the UAE to the country’s consulate in Thiruvananthapuram.
Four people have been arrested so far including Swapna Suresh, a former consultant with the state IT department. The CM’s powerful secretary Sivasankar, a senior IAS official, was later removed from the post after reports surfaced that he was allegedly close to Suresh. The case was later handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
After phone call details surfaced, the minister hurriedly convened a press conference and explained that he called Suresh as directed by the UAE consular office in connection with the distribution of Ramzan food kits on May 27.
“I contacted her as the executive secretary of the consular office. It was part of my official duty. It is not the duty of a minister to find out details of any employee of the consulate office,” said Jaleel. He also said that he was not aware of her history.
His private secretary’s number also figured in the call list of Sarith Kumar, another accused who has been arrested. When asked about this he said the NIA can investigate all such details and he was not worried. Later the CM also defended his minister.
Earlier in the day Customs officials reached the residence of senior IAS officer Sivasankar and issued summons to him. Within half an hour he reached the Customs office in Thiruvananthpuram for questioning. He was still being questioned in the evening.
The CM said it was part of the investigation and there was no need to suspend him now. He said the government was not worried as the NIA investigation was going in the right direction.
The Customs department detained three more persons on Tuesday. Their details were not disclosed.
Meanwhile, the NIA court in Kochi issued an arrest warrant against key suspect Faisal Fareed who is reported to be in the UAE.
The NIA will soon move the Interpol for the arrest and extradition of Fareed from the UAE, people familiar with the high-profile probe team said. The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Intelligence Bureau, Enforcement Directorate and other agencies are also helping in the probe.
In its custody application for those arrested, the NIA said a good amount of money generated through smuggling was pumped in to fund terror activities. It also said 150 kg of gold were smuggled through Thiruvananthapuram airport in last six months in similar fashion.