NIA to probe Kerala gold smuggling case
The Union home ministry directed the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to probe the Kerala gold smuggling case on Thursday, a day after chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a high-level investigation into the incident that has triggered a major political controversy.
A home ministry spokesperson said NIA was handed over the probe “as the organised smuggling operation may have serious implications for national security”.
Earlier in the day, Kerala’s ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) asked the Union government for a faster probe into the smuggling of gold through a diplomatic cargo into the state as the main suspect in the racket, a female information technology consultant, moved the high court for anticipatory bail.
“Some people are creating a smoke screen to target the state government. We have nothing to hide. The CM had sent a letter to the Prime Minister saying the state is ready for any probe. But it is getting delayed. We suspect delay is aimed at embarrassing the government,” said VS Vijayaraghavan, convenor of the CPI (M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF).
Vijayaraghavan alleged that the opposition Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which have sought to link the racket to the state government, were worried about the growing popularity of the LDF because of the successes it has scored in the fight against Covid-19. In New Delhi, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury echoed the view.
The customs department seized 30kg of gold from an air cargo consignment from the United Arab Emirates addressed to its consulate in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday.
Main suspect Swapna Suresh, who was working as the operational manager of the Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited under the state IT ministry, has since gone into hiding. CM Vijayan then transferred his principal secretary M Sivasankar allegedly because he was close to Suresh.
Amid the controversy, Suresh sent an audio tape to a news channel in which she said there was a concerted move to target the government with an eye on elections and she had been made a scapegoat.
She claimed that she made a call to the customs department to release the consignment at the behest of the he UAE consular office. She also said she feared for her life and was keeping away from public glare until the dust settles.
In her plea in the high court, which listed the matter for Friday, Suresh said she was dragged in the case for political reasons and the customs took up the case following a vigorous media trial. A public interest litigation, too, was filed in the court seeking a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
“This has a familiar ring to the solar scandal that routed the ruling UDF [United Democratic Front] in 2016. A scandal is a scandal and whether there is substance in the allegations is electorally irrelevant. That is the history of the state,” said senior journalist and political observer John Mary.
That’s a reference to a 2013 scandal in which a solar energy company used a woman to create political contacts and duped people by offering to make them business partners or offering to install solar power units.
The Congress has demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the entire matter, including the alleged involvement of leaders of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the national level.
Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said the recent developments in Kerala have highlighted the “brazen attitude and high-level access” of certain individuals to the highest echelons of the state government.