Kerala

Gold smuggling case: NIA, Customs probes gather momentum as accused is brought to Kerala

Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair, accused in the Kerala gold smuggling case, detained at the NIA office in Bengalur.

Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair, accused in the Kerala gold smuggling case, detained at the NIA office in Bengalur.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The twin probes by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Customs Department into the seizure of 30 kg of contraband gold from an air cargo shipment addressed to the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram appeared to gather momentum on Sunday.

The NIA arrested Swapna Suresh, the main accused in the case, from BTM Layout in Bengaluru on Saturday. They have also arrested her alleged accomplice, Sandeep Nair, whose car accessory shop in Thiruvananthapuram was allegedly a front for contraband gold business.

Parallel investigations

The Customs and NIA inquiries are running parallel to each other. The NIA probe was focussed on whether the proceeds from the gold smuggling operation benefited terrorist organisations. The Customs was interested in the economic angle of the offence. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) might probe the anti-corruption angle if evidence emerged whether any official had aided the smuggling.

Protests en-route

The NIA was scheduled to produce Ms. Swapna and Mr. Nair in their special court in Kochi soon. Television news channels had tracked the motorcade of police vehicles escorting the accused from Bengaluru to Kochi from the border check-post in Walayar in Palakkad district.

Congress workers staged a protest at the check post as the motorcade swept past them. Television cameras grabbed the fleeting picture of a woman in a black hood flanked by women officers in one of the police vehicles. The accused were subjected to a medical examination and the mandatory COVID-19 test at a government hospital in Aluva.

 

Meanwhile, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party ratcheted up their criticism against the government. They attempted to link the crime to the Office of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan by staging protests along the route taken by the accused from Walayar to Kochi.

‘Accused allowed to flee Kerala’

United Democratic Front convener Benny Behanan, MP, alleged that the State police had allowed the accused to flee Kerala. He also wondered how the accused could enter Karnataka without the prior permission of the authorities there. He said it was strange that the suspects, whose pictures were aired round-the-clock on television channels, could dodge COVID-19 travel restrictions and reach Bengaluru unchallenged.

Inspection at flat

Customs enforcers on Saturday confiscated the visitors register maintained at the entrance of a high rise in which former Principal Secretary to Mr. Vijayan, M. Sivasankar, retained a private apartment. The bureaucrat had to step down from his post after reports emerged in the public domain about his purported proximity to Ms. Suresh.

 

Customs officials said they would take a call soon on whether investigators should record Mr. Sivasankar’s statement in connection with their probe. Currently, investigators have not named him as a respondent in the case, nor do they reckon him a “person of interest” in the smuggling operation.

Any such measure, if at all, would depend on the verification of the statement given by Ms. Suresh and other accused. A senior officer told The Hindu that the government had not, as of yet, contemplated any departmental action against Mr. Sivasankar as reported in the electronic media.

Meanwhile, the police have posted a picket outside Mr. Sivasankar’s house here following an intelligence report that Opposition party workers could stage a march to his residence.

Opposition targets CMO

Opposition protests appeared to target the CMO increasingly.

Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala on Sunday reiterated his demand to bring the CMO under the ambit of the ongoing probe. He demanded a police enquiry into how Ms. Suresh gained employment in a subsidiary company controlled by the IT department under Mr. Vijayan.

Earlier, reports had emerged that Ms. Suresh had faked her academic credentials to bag the key post that brought her in close contact with the officialdom. At the time of appointment, Mr. Sivasankar was the Principal Secretary, Electronics and IT department.

Wildlife case accused questioned

Meanwhile, the Customs have summoned one Rameez for questioning. The police had charged him for poaching Sambar deer in Palakkad district in 2014. Officials said they were yet to name him as an accused.

The NIA has also initiated steps to arrest Fazil Fareed, a resident of Kochi who owned a trading company and grocery outlet in Dubai. Customs officials said he had a role in procuring the gold in Dubai and converting it into cylindrical form for concealment in imported piping. They said he could be a front for those who invested in the multi-crore smuggling operation. The Customs had valued the contraband gold at ₹15 crores.

The NIA has also named P. A. Sarith as an accused in their case. The Customs had arrested him earlier on the charge of using fake UAE consulate documents to clear the shipment fraudulently from the air cargo complex in Thiruvananthapuram.

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Printable version | Aug 10, 2020 1:19:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/gold-smuggling-case-nia-customs-probes-gather-momentum-as-accused-is-brought-to-kerala/article32057172.ece

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