Kerala gold smuggling case | ED arrests suspended IAS officer Sivasankar soon after High Court rejects anticipatory bail plea

M Sivasankar at Directorate of Enforcement office, Kochi on Wednesday.   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

The Enforcement Directorate on Wednesday detained former Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, M. Sivasankar, for questioning in connection with the money laundering angle of the UAE consulate-linked gold smuggling case.

His arrest was recorded by around 10.15 p.m. after nearly seven hours of questioning by the investigating team at the agency’s office here. Mr. Sivasankar will be produced before the Principal Sessions Court, Ernakulam. on Thursday.

Anticipatory bail

The day’s drama unfolded after the Kerala High Court rejected his anticipatory bail in the morning. Two ED officials arrived at the private Ayurveda hospital where Mr. Sivasankar was undergoing treatment for chronic back pain and served him a summons for further interrogation at the agency's office in Kochi.

Theatrical "arrest"

The agency accosted Mr. Sivasankar immediately after news broke that the Kerala High Court had rejected his plea for anticipatory bail.

A phalanx of news reporters and television camera persons had staked out in front of the hospital anticipating Mr. Sivasankar's imminent arrest.

The embattled bureaucrat appeared stoic and refused to answer questions from journalists as he emerged from the hospital flanked by plainclothes officers. The ED agents soon whisked him away in their official car to their office in Kochi.

NIA role

The decision of the National Investigation Agency in July to investigate the gold smuggling case under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, had set in motion a chain of events that rocked the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government.

Mr Sivasankar was reckoned widely as the face of the Chief Minister's Office (CMO) and Mr Vijayan's close confidant. The recurrently televised optics of the ED taking him into custody appeared not to have augured well for the public image of the government. They also seemed to have catalysed the demand of the Congress and the Bharathiya Janata Party (BJP) for the resignation of Mr Vijayan.

PMLA and UAPA angles

The ED suspected that Mr. Sivasankar had helped gold smuggling case accused Swapna Suresh conceal the vast proceeds from the crime in bank lockers and accounts. Swapna had allegedly spirited away a part of the booty to Dubai in foreign currency, and Mr Sivasankar had accompanied her on some of the trips.

The ED believed that the illegal profits were ploughed back into the gold smuggling operation headed by persons with suspicious links to radical organisations in the country and abroad.

Hence, the agency wanted to question him under sections 16, 17 and 18 of the UAPA. The provisions relate to raising funds, directly or indirectly, for anti-national activities and include offences that imperil the economic security of the country.

The illegal acts under the UAPA are also "scheduled" offences under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). The official said ED would examine whether Mr. Sivasankar's "level of culpability", if at all, in the matter. So far, neither the ED nor the Customs has registered a case against Mr. Sivasankar. He continued to be a person of interest.

The NIA has evinced interest in examining Mr. Sivasankar's interrogation report to find out whether it revealed any cognisable offence under the provisions of the UAPA.

Demand for CM's resignation

Mr. Sivasankar's detention seemed to have further catalysed the demand of the Congress and the Bharathiya Janata Party (BJP) for Mr Vijayan's resignation. Both parties have sworn to revive aggressive street protests if Mr. Vijayan refused to stepdown.

Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said that Mr. Sivasankar had merely done Mr. Vijayan's bidding. The CM could not absolve himself of the crime. Mr. Vijayan had allowed Mr Sivasankar to use the heft of his office to aid economic offenders and anti-nationals. He had lost the moral right to continue in office.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Mullapally Ramachandran and P. K. Krishnadas, national general secretary of the BJP, demanded that Mr. Vijayan resign immediately. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) was yet to react to the development.

Govt rejects demand

Law Minister A. K. Balan said there was no ground or precedent for the Chief Minister to resign because a former bureaucrat attached to his office was under a cloud of suspicion. The government had requested the NIA to probe the case. It had extended full support to the Central agencies.  Congress and BJP were attempting to politicise the issue ahead of the local body elections by laying down a smokescreen of lies to cast the government under a cloud of suspicion. The opposition wanted to eclipse the achievements of the LDF government, he said.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 3:06:52 AM |

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