Kerala sacks IT consultant after Customs allege link to gold smuggling racket
Swapna Suresh who was working as the operational manager of the Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited has gone underground after the seizure of the gold from a chartered flight in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday.Updated: Jul 06, 2020 21:34 IST
The Kerala government on Monday terminated the service of information technology consultant Swapna Suresh after the Customs department unearthed her alleged links to a gold smuggling racket following the seizure of 30 kg gold from a diplomatic consignment on Sunday.
Customs had seized the precious metal from an air cargo consignment from the United Arab Emirates to the country’s consulate in Thiruvananthapuram after permission from the Ministry of External Affairs.
Swapna Suresh who was working as the operational manager of the Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited under the state IT Ministry is said to have gone underground after the seizure.
After the Customs department intensified its search for her, an embarrassed state government issued a terse statement saying her contract with the IT department was terminated with immediate effect. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan holds the IT portfolio.
The opposition BJP and Congress stepped up pressure on Vijayan asking him to explain his position in the case. BJP state president K Surendran alleged that after the seizure of gold, a senior official from the CM’s office made a desperate call to Customs officials pleading them to spare some people involved in the case.
“Before taking up her latest job Swapna Suresh worked in the UAE embassy for some time as a PR consultant and was sacked after some irregularities. There is a case against her in Thiruvananthapuram also. Then how did she take up an important position in the IT department?,” asked Surendran. He said large quantities of gold were smuggled through diplomatic consignment earlier also using her contacts and many got their share of the booty. He also alleged that she was close to IT secretary M Shivashankar who helped her to get plum the assignment.
“It is disturbing that the CM’s office has turned into a haven for smugglers and others. The IT secretary should be sacked. Since the case is getting murkier we want the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe it,” said opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala.
IT Secretary M Shivshankar said he was ready for any investigation and will share all information with the customs department. He said since the investigation was on it would not be proper for him to comment on the case.
The CM played down the incident and denied reports that his office made any intervention. “Customs is with the Union government. Let it investigate and find out the truth,” Vijayan said. When asked about the appointment of Swapna in a key position he said it did not come to his notice and he will find out how it happened. He said a recent tendency to drag the CM’s office into all issues will not succeed.
Amid the political sparring that the gold seizure has sparked, Customs have refused to comment. “Our investigation is continuing. We have got some information that earlier also the syndicate smuggled gold like this,” said Sumit Kumar, Customs Commissioner in-charge of Kerala and Lakshadweep region.
The UAE embassy said in a statement that none of its officials had any role in the smuggling and one of its former employees made use of diplomatic immunity to indulge in such an act.
The gold bars and sticks were hidden inside some of the household equipment to avoid detection. The seized gold is worth Rs 15 crore in the market, a Customs official said.