Kerala gold smuggling case: Accused used UAE consulate seal to forge papers
A charge sheet filed last month by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in politically charged Kerala gold smuggling scandal reveals how the key players, PS Sarith Kumar and Swapna Suresh, used the seal and letter pad of Consulate General of UAE in Thiruvananthapuram for issuing forged authorisation letters for smuggling gold through diplomatic cargo.
According to the charge sheet, reviewed by HT, when Sarith, who worked as public relations officer at the consulate between September 2016 and September 2019, was given the responsibility of clearing import cargo of diplomats and he found out that consignments of the Consulate were exempted from Customs inspections. Suresh, who was working as secretary to the Consul General, and Sarith decided to use this channel for smuggling gold for which they roped in a smuggler -- Ramees KT, who was earlier booked in a gold smuggling case in 2014 at Thiruvananthapuram International Airport.
For facilitating smuggling through import cargo of the Consulate, Suresh and Sarith fixed their commission as $1,000 for every kg of smuggled gold. During a meeting in June 2019, it was decided that Ramees will form a gang to collect funds, provide logistical support and to recruit more people both within India and the UAE for smuggling gold in large quantity, according to the NIA charge sheet.
To check the secrecy and reliability of diplomatic cargo route, the accused even sent two trial consignments without gold on July 14, 2019, from Dubai.
Sarith, who had left the Consulate by September 2019, took with him a sample letter pad of the Consulate General, in which authorisation letters on behalf of Consul General of UAE were prepared with forged signatures of the diplomat and seal of the Consulate General, NIA says. The forged authorisation letters were issued by Sarith with the assistance of Suresh and were sent to Dubai for facilitating booking of consignments there. For sharing the forged letter and coordinating the smuggling activities, the accused persons had formed a Telegram channel “CPM Committee”.
After the gold consignments were delivered to co-accused in Thiruvananthapuram, commission was handed over to one Sandeep Nair, of which a major part was taken by Sarith and Suresh “on the pretext of giving to the diplomat”, the charge sheet reveals.
It was UAE Consul General who had written to various authorities including the Customs about Sarith’s forgery activities after noticing the same in April 2020. The UAE had informed that Sarith had resigned from the PRO job in September 2019 itself.
In all, the accused persons had smuggled 167 kgs of 24 carat gold between November 2019 and June 2020.
The scandal was unearthed after the last consignment of 30.244 kg gold, which arrived on June 30, 2020, was seized by the Customs.
The NIA has also mentioned in the charge sheet that after tasting success in smuggling gold from the UAE, the accused persons were preparing to smuggle gold from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Malaysia as well as African countries.
NIA officials who didn’t want to be named said that they are further investigating the case to find out any political links of arrested persons. The agency had filed a charge sheet against 20 people, including Sarith and Suresh, on January 5.
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