New Delhi: The Kerala ‘gold smuggling case’, which caused a major political stir when the key accused, Swapna Suresh, pointed fingers at Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and top civil servants, just got even more controversial.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which is investigating the case, has alleged that the Kerala government is not only applying pressure on the accused to withdraw their statements against the CM, but has targeted investigators by filing false cases and fabricating evidence.
The central agency levelled these allegations Wednesday in the Supreme Court, where it has filed a petition to transfer the trial in the case from Kerala to Karnataka.
“Timely judicial intervention is necessary to ensure that illegal attempts to derail proceedings are thwarted,” stated the petition, a copy of which ThePrint has accessed.
The petition lists out a number of alleged incidents to back the ED’s contention that the Kerala government and police have interfered with the investigation and tried to influence witnesses. “All these facts necessitate that the trial be transferred from the state of Kerala,” it said.
The ED also offered to place before the top court, in a sealed cover, the statement of key accused Swapna Prabhu Suresh, which was recorded under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPc) before a magistrate last month.
Suresh, a former employee of the UAE consulate in Kerala, has claimed that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, his family members, and top civil servants, among others, were involved in the so-called gold smuggling racket, which came to light in 2020 after 30 kg gold was discovered in diplomatic baggage, allegedly snuck into India from Dubai.
Vijayan has denied Suresh’s allegations, and last month referred to them as a “flood of lies” against the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government. Responding to a question from the opposition in the assembly on 27 June, he also denied one of Suresh’s allegations that luggage containing currency notes was sent to him when he was in Dubai in 2016.
One of the senior civil servants against whom Suresh has made accusations is M. Sivasankar, who has served as principal secretary to the Kerala Chief Minister. He was arrested in October 2020 and named as an accused in the case.
He was granted bail by the Kerala High Court on 25 January 2021 and has continued to protest his innocence. Earlier this year, he even published a book in which he alleged that investigating agencies were under pressure to implicate the CM.
In its transfer petition, the ED claimed that Sivasankar was using the state machinery to create false evidence against the agency and its officers so as to protect certain “powerful persons” in the state government.
The case has caused a major political controversy in Kerala, with the opposition clamouring for a CBI probe. In the state assembly Thursday, the CM rejected this demand and also denied the ED’s allegations that the state government was trying to hinder the investigation.
How it all started
On 5 July 2020, customs officials at Thiruvananthapuram airport seized diplomatic cargo headed for the office of the UAE consulate and discovered 30 kg of gold worth nearly Rs 15 crore.
The Customs Commissionerate in Cochin registered an FIR against Sarith P.S., a former public relations officer at the UAE consulate, and Swapna Suresh, the former secretary to the UAE’s consul-general.
The case created a flutter amid allegations that Swapna, Sarith, and another alleged accomplice called Sandeep Nair used diplomatic connections to smuggle gold (diplomatic cargo is usually exempt from customs examinations) and that senior government officials and politicians were allegedly beneficiaries of the racket.
“This seizure was only the tip of the iceberg and there were 21 such consignments of gold which was smuggled into India, which runs to more than Rs 80 crores,” noted the petition. A case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) was lodged and a prosecution complaint was filed before the special court in Ernakulum against the three.
A supplementary complaint was filed on 24 December 2020 against Sivasankar, who has been described as a “powerful senior IAS officer” by the ED in its transfer petition.
Allegations of ‘pressure’
The ED’s petition to transfer the case due to undue pressure hinges on various events, including an application for protection filed by Suresh before a trial court in which she claimed she was threatened during judicial custody against disclosing the names of persons in higher authority.
The ED has also referred to a petition filed by Nair before the special court on 5 March 2021, more than six months after he was released from custody, in which he accused the agency of pressuring him to name the CM. The ED has questioned Nair’s allegations, claiming he never made such assertions when he was produced before the trial court while in custody.
The transfer petition also mentions two FIRs that the ED holds as questionable. The first case was registered against ED officials, accusing them of exerting pressure on Suresh to name Pinarayi Vijayan in the case. This was purportedly registered at the behest of women police constables who guarded Suresh when she was in custody.
In the second FIR, the ED was accused of harassing Nair and compelling him to furnish false evidence against the CM. According to ED both are false cases and were quashed by the Kerala High Court on 16 April 2021.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)