Ready for CBI probe in gold smuggling case, says Kerala CM after removing top aide
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan attempted to blunt opposition attacks on his office over the gold smuggling racket, saying he was ready for any probe.Updated: Jul 07, 2020 23:18 IST
A day after a senior information technology consultant to the Kerala government allegedly emerged as the key player in the gold smuggling racket operated through diplomatic channels, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Tuesday rushed to contain the political fallout of the racket, removed his top aide M Sivasankar and declared that he was ready for any probe.
A brief statement by Vijayan’s office announced the transfer of the chief minister’s principal secretary M Sivasankar “with immediate effect”. Sivasankar’s charge has been handed over to another IAS officer Mir Mohammad.
Sivasankar has been linked to the IT consultant Swapna Suresh who is alleged to have played a key role in the gold smuggling racket following the seizure of 30 kg gold from a diplomatic consignment on Sunday. The government sacked Swapna Suresh the next day.
But the opposition kept up the pressure. Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala sought a CBI probe, alleging that Swapna Suresh and Sivasankar, who was also the state’s IT secretary, were linked. Other opposition leaders also joined in, insisting that the chief minister was aware of Swapna Suresh’s appointment and that she was given key responsibilities.
Customs officials on Sunday had seized a diplomatic bag that landed from the UAE, ostensibly being sent to its consulate in the state capital. Since authorities cannot not open a diplomatic bag under the Vienna convention, they roped in UAE consulate officials. The bag, which arrived on a chartered flight from the UAE, contained 30 kg of gold in cylindrical form hidden within some equipment.
Sarith Kumar, a former employee of the consulate, has been arrested by the customs. He is alleged to have disclosed Swapna’s role in the racket. There are reports that they made at least 10 such sorties which went unnoticed.
Chief Minister Vijayan played down the controversy saying the state was ready for any probe.
“She was hired by a placement agency. Customs also made it clear that nobody had called from the CM’s office to bail her out. Some people are creating a smoke screen to portray the government in the bad light,” he said.
Asked why he had removed his principal secretary, the chief minister said he was sent out of the CM’s office after receipt of some general complaints.
BJP state president K Surendran, however, alleged that a senior official from the CM’s office did make a call to customs officials pleading with them to spare some people involved in the case. The gold bars and sticks were hidden inside some of the household equipment like handlebars to avoid detection.
As the controversy raged, the CPM central leadership said the party is ready for a probe by an agency including the CBI. The United Arab Emirates embassy has also said it will cooperate with the ongoing probe.