Swapna Suresh, the woman who stirred Kerala’s political pot
Swapna Suresh’s June 6 statement before a magistrate has fuelled attacks on Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The Congress and the BJP say he should resign
After her name cropped up in the infamous Kerala gold smuggling case, UAE-born Swapna Suresh, 42, became the cynosure of Kerala politics in 2020 because of her close links with the then principal secretary to the chief minister, M Shivasankar. But this wasn’t her first encounter with the law or controversy.
In a statement before a magistrate on June 6, Swapna Suresh accused Kerala chief minister Pinayari Vijayan of trying to silence her in connection with the case, leading the opposition Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of demanding the chief minister’s resignation. The ruling CPI-M called her allegations a “flood of lies” and alleged that she was a “pawn” in the hands of Congress and BJP.
The gold smuggling case came into light after 30 kg of gold worth ₹15 crores was found in diplomatic bags seized at the Thiruvananthapuram international airport by the Customs on July 5, 2020. Subsequent investigations showed that Suresh tried to get the gold smuggled through the diplomatic channels using her influence in the UAE consulate, where she worked earlier.
Suresh is accused in six cases, with the latest criminal conspiracy lodged on June 7.
Who is Swapna Suresh
People close to her said she was born and brought up in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). After her father suffered losses in the business in early 2010, she took up a job in the UAE. Three years later, she returned to India in 2013 and joined Air India SATS, an airport cargo handling firm, as an office assistant. Fluent in Arabic, English and other languages, she was appointed as the HR head of the firm within a year.
Her first brush with the law in India happened in 2015 after 17 women workers of the Thiruvananthapuram airport filed a sexual harassment complaint against a union leader and ground handling in-charge of Air India, L S Shibu, who denied the charges. During the investigation, police found that the signatures of the women were fudged and they were unaware of the complaint. Later, a court also quashed charges against Shibu and directed police to book those who implicated him. Swapna resigned soon after.
In 2016, when the UAE opened its consular office in Kerala capital, a long-pending demand of the state, she joined as executive assistant to the attaché. Her fluency in Arabic helped. But she was sacked within a year of her appointment, allegedly due to “professional misconduct”, a person close to her said.
“Even after she left, she maintained contact with the consulate,” the person said.
According to the state police, its probe revealed that she was not even a matriculate. She allegedly produced a fake B Com degree purportedly issued by a Maharashtra university that she got by paying ₹1 lakh to a Kerala-based person, police said. The university told investigating agencies that it never had a B Com course. She was booked for forgery.
Politics and Swapna Suresh
It was during her stint at the consulate that she came in contact with CM’s principal secretary, M Sivasanakar, an accused in the money laundering case registered by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in 2020.
“It all began in 2016 when the CM was on a trip to the UAE. I was the secretary in the consulate, and CM’s principal secretary M Sivasankar contacted me for the first time, saying the CM had forgotten to take one of the bags and it had to be taken to Dubai immediately. We sent the bag through a diplomat, but before it, we scanned and found the bag was filled with foreign currency. That is how all it started,” she told media last week.
After her stint with the consulate ended, Sivasankar reportedly helped her get a job with government-run Kerala Information Technology Infrastructure Limited. She was still employed with the company when her role in the gold smuggling case first came to light. There were unverified allegations he helped her get another job.
However, relations between Swapna and Sivasankar soured after the bureaucrat’s autobiography, “Aswathamavu Verum Oru Aana” (Aswathamavu is just an elephant), was released this February.
The bureaucrat claimed he was “trapped and cheated” by Swapna who he treated as a friend.
Swapna Suresh has, however, rebutted him, saying she acted as per his advice at every stage and it was “unfair” to disown her at a critical juncture.
“Whatever I knew, or I am party to it, Sivasankar knew about them,” she said, claiming she went on many foreign trips with him. Shivasankar has not responded to her counter-claims.
A National Investigation Agency (NIA) officer, who once questioned her, described her as “very polished” and “articulate”, and an expert at finding solutions to knotty issues.
“She has an uncanny knack to convince people,” he said.
“It is true many used her connections in UAE to curry favours… She cultivated her sources for illegal activities like smuggling,” said a police officer who had questioned her. Suresh was released from jail last November.
A new controversy erupts
Swapna Suresh’s June 6 statement before the magistrate provoked former minister K T Jaleel to file a police complaint against her. The state vigilance bureau registered a case against her and arrested Suresh’s close confidante P S Sarith from her house the following day.
Soon after Sarith was picked up by police, Suresh claimed that Jaleel “is conspiring to silence me. He’s is one who sent a mediator to me fearing I will spill the beans”. Jaleel dismissed the allegation, saying, “as long as the sun rises in the east, I will be there to face her baseless allegations.”
Police claimed that they went to Suresh’s house to serve a notice to Sarith and was detained only after he refused to accept the notice. Police said he was released and told to appear before the vigilance department in Thiruvananthapuram in the Life Mission case on June 16. Suresh is also accused in the Life Mission scam, in which, it is alleged that a 30% commission was given to her by a private company to get approvals from the government for plans to construct 97 two-room apartments in Thrissur.
As the police pressure mounted on Suresh, she released audio clips last Friday claiming that journalist turned real estate agent Shaj Kiran, warned her of police harassment if she did not withdraw her statement against the CM in the court.
She told reporters that Kiran, whom she described as a mediator between her and the CM, asked her to withdraw her court statement or Sarith would be taken into custody.
She also claimed that Kiran was in touch with the additional director general of police, MR Ajith Kumar, who was investigating the conspiracy case lodged by Jaleel.
“They made 56 WhatsApp calls to Kiran’s phone and sought updates. But I don’t know any of the police officers personally,” she said, adding that she came to know Shaj Kiran through M Sivasankar.
As the controversy snowballed, the chief minister’s office removed MR Ajit Kumar after it was found that he was in with Shaj Kiran, who allegedly tried to compel Swapna Suresh to withdraw her charges against the CM.
Political observer B Jayashankar said it was surprising to see that a special investigation team was formed under an ADGP to probe a simple conspiracy case against her. “If the government had shown the same speed and sincerity, many cases would have been cracked,” he said.
BJP, Congress aim at Pinayari Vijayan
With the controversy taking a new twist and turn every day, leader of the Opposition in the assembly VD Satheesan said the Congress did not trust central or state agencies investigating the revelations made by Suresh.
“A high court-monitored probe is needed to bring out the truth,” he said.
Satheesan said the chief minister invited central agencies to probe the case, but the investigation was stopped when it reached the CMO.
Satheesan also described Swapna’s allegation that a bag of currency notes was sent to Dubai during the CM’s visit in 2016 as ‘serious’.
“We suspect there is an understanding between the state and Centre to weaken cases. Central agencies did their job as a mere ritual. Even Swapna said she disclosed everything to Customs but they failed to act,” said Satheesan.
Kerala‘s BJP president K Surendran said the central agencies hadn’t wrapped up their investigations. The Congress is jumping the gun to weaken the case,” he said.
The chief minister’s office has called Suresh’s statement in court a “flood of lies”. On Saturday, chief minister Pinayari Vijayan responded to the charges against him in an hour-long speech in Kottayam.
“These tricks won’t work against us. The people trust us, and they can see through things. The media should examine if what they are doing is right,” he said.
Swapna Suresh said that she will continue her fight to get justice and expose how people close to the chief minister harassed her. “There is more to come.”