Kerala

Gold smuggling case: Pinarayi’s Principal Secretary removed from post as street protests erupt against govt.’s alleged link to suspect

File photo of M. Sivasankar.

File photo of M. Sivasankar.   | Photo Credit: S. RAMESH KURUP

The Kerala government has removed M. Sivasankar from the post of Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. However, the IAS officer will continue to head the IT department for now.

Mr. Sivasankar had, arguably, come under a cloud after the Opposition attempted to associate him and, by extension, the CM’s office, with gold smuggling case suspect Swapna Suresh.

“I have applied for leave for a year,” the bureaucrat told The Hindu.

Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party workers attempted to whip up anti-government sentiment after videos and pictures of Ms. Suresh with top ruling front politicians, senior bureaucrats and ranking police officials surfaced on the social media. They organised street protests across Kerala and torched the effigies of Mr. Vijayan and Ms. Suresh in a mark of protest.

The Customs Department had named Ms. Suresh as a “suspect and person of interest” in the case relating to the seizure of 35 kg of contraband gold from an air shipment addressed to the United Arab Emirates consulate here on July 5.

Ms. Suresh was an employee of the consulate until the government appointed her as marketing liaison officer of the Space Park project under the IT department’s Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited (KSITIL) company. The government had terminated her service as a contract employee after the controversy broke.

The Customs had on Monday arrested a former consulate colleague of hers on the charge of smuggling. Ms. Suresh herself was believed to be absconding.

The BJP and the Congress seized upon the ongoing Customs Department investigation to target the Chief Minister.

Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala accused Mr. Vijayan of having scapegoated Mr. Sivasankar by laying the blame for the alleged attempt to extricate Ms. Suresh from the smuggling case at his Principal Secretary’s doorstep.

Mr. Vijayan had on Monday attempted to distance himself from the controversy by stating that he would enquire into the circumstances that led to the appointment of Ms. Suresh.

‘National security compromised’

Mr. Chennithala said the CM’s office had compromised national security by offering refuge to international criminals. He alleged Ms. Suresh had a free run of the CM’s office. The government had given her a plum post, ignoring an adverse report filed by the State Police Intelligence.

Mr. Chennithala said he has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the “involvement” of the CM’s office in the international gold smuggling case.

‘Mover and shaker’

In Kozhikode, BJP State president K. Surendran said Ms. Suresh had unmatched access to the CM’s office. He alleged that Ms. Suresh, who projected the image of a mover and shaker in diplomatic circles, was the prime organiser behind the visit of the Sultan of Sharjah to Kerala in 2017 and the Loka Kerala Sabha later.

He said photographs and videos of parties, functions and events testified to Ms. Suresh’s proximity to top politicians and bosses of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

United Democratic Front leader Shibu Baby John challenged Mr. Vijayan to clarify how Ms. Suresh, who allegedly had no academic qualifications to speak off, had found herself in a top position in the IT department.

Mr. Vijayan was expected to counter the Opposition’s allegations against his office at his customary COVID-19 related news briefing later in the evening.

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Printable version | Aug 7, 2020 4:30:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/gold-smuggling-case-pinarayis-principal-secretary-removed-from-post-as-street-protests-erupt-against-govts-alleged-link-to-suspect/article32011408.ece

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