ED questions Kerala minister in gold smuggling case
Two days after the CPI(M) state secretary’s son Bineesh Kodiyeri was cross-examined, the Enforce Directorate (ED) on Friday questioned Kerala Higher Education Minister KT Jaleel in the sensational gold smuggling case.
The minister appeared before the ED in Kochi in a private vehicle and the questioning continued for about three hours. A top official said some of his statements were contradictory and he will be summoned again for more clarity.
The opposition Congress and BJP have urged chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan to sack the minister immediately. “It is a shame for the state. It seems the CM is waiting for his arrest. This is the first time such an incident is taking place,” said opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala.
The minister maintained that it was not a questioning and he will co-operate with the ongoing probe. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is yet to react over this.
Trouble began for Jaleel after phone call records of Swapna Suresh, main accused in the gold smuggling case, were leaked to the media. The minister’s phone number figured prominently in the list. Soon after the list surfaced, the minister had called a press conference in Malappuram and said he called Suresh as a consular employee in connection with Ramadan kits offered by the UAE consulate.
This clarification invited more trouble for him as he is not supposed to accept any funds or freebies without the consent of the ministry of external affairs, experts said, adding it was a clear violation of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).
During the investigation, the customs found that a heavy consignment came on March 4 in 31 bags, weighing more than 4,000 kg and they were taken to Malappuram. The minister admitted he took these packets to his constituency but said they were religious books.
The ED and customs officials said even if those were books, his action was a clear violation of the FCRA and there were many discrepancies in his claims also.
“Out of 31 packets that came only one packet was opened. Rest are lying in two religious institutions in my constituency. Let any agency probe, my hands are clean,” the minister had said criticising the media trial.
Former diplomats said no country usually exports religious books and special permission was needed for such imports, adding he can be booked for violating these norms.
The customs had seized 30 kg gold from a consignment that came in the name of an official of the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram on July 5. Later the case was handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and at least four other central agencies are part of the probe now.
The NIA has arrested 30 persons in connection with the case.
The Enforcement Directorate had submitted a statement in a court in Kochi on Wednesday saying Bengaluru drug haul and gold smuggling cases were closely linked. Key accused in the drug case, Anoop Mohammad, had taken the name of Bineesh Kodiyeri during questioning and claimed he was his close “business partner”.
Kodiyeri said he helped him in setting up a hotel and he was not aware of his drug dealings. There are also reports the Narcotics Control Bureau probing the Bengaluru haul will question Kodiyeri soon. The ED also reportedly found that the Communist leader’s son owned properties worth crores of rupees and many firms as benami.