Kerala

Kerala gold smuggling case: Former Principal Secretary Sivasankar grilled on association with Swapna

File photo of M. Sivasankar.

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

Officials refuse to comment on whether they found any incriminating evidence against the bureaucrat

The Customs Department early on Wednesday escorted the former Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, M. Sivasankar, home after interviewing him for several hours at its office in Thiruvananthapuram.

The department had questioned him in connection with the smuggling of gold via air cargo shipments addressed to the consulate of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the State capital.

Officials said Mr. Sivasankar had answered in detail on his association with Swapna Suresh, the second accused in the smuggling case.

They said the long hours Mr. Sivasankar spent inside the Customs House with investigators did not imply that the official was a suspect in the high-profile case, which had a bearing on national security and also international relations.

Officials were unwilling to comment on whether they had found any incriminating evidence against the bureaucrat. They said the probe was still at a nascent stage and it was too early to assign or deny guilt.

Another official said the process of recording Mr. Sivasankar’s statement was protracted and explained his long wait at the office.

Mr. Sivasankar reportedly said he knew Ms. Suresh professionally. She had interacted with an array of State government officials, including himself, in her capacity as executive secretary of the Consul General of the UAE.

Later, a private placement agency had posted Ms. Suresh as marketing liaison officer of the Space Park project promoted by the Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited (KSITIL), a subsidiary of the IT department. A global consultancy contracted by the government for certain mega projects had purportedly vetted her application.

As Principal Secretary of the IT department, Mr. Sivasankar had interacted with Ms. Suresh officially. One of her tasks at the Space Project was to find private-sector sponsors for upcoming programmes and market such events globally. Mr. Sivasankar reportedly said he knew Ms. Suresh very little outside her official work. He neither had knowledge of the crime nor did he do anything to abet the smuggling.

Media attention

The arrival of Mr. Sivasankar had riveted public attention, given the political import of the case. A phalanx of television camera persons and journalists were on a stakeout in front of the office following widespread speculation that the Customs would arrest Mr. Sivasankar.

The wait ended in an anticlimactic finish for at least a few television journalists when Customs officials dropped Mr. Sivasankar at his house in Poojappura at around 2.30 a.m. Several television channel vans had tailed Mr. Sivasankar’s car. Commentary on Mr. Sivasankar’s “impending arrest” had dominated the late-night news cycle.

A committee headed by Chief Secretary Vishwas Mehta was probing the controversial appointment of Ms. Suresh in the IT department-owned firm.

Earlier, the Opposition had alleged that Ms. Suresh had gained employment by faking her academic qualification and with the help of certain persons in the Chief Minister’s Office.

Mr. Vijayan had said he awaited the committee’s report to decide whether or not to initiate disciplinary action against Mr. Sivasankar. He had said that the government could not act based on rumour or speculation in the media.

The Cantonment police had indicted Ms. Suresh on Tuesday on the charge of using a fake document as a genuine one, among other offences. She was also the subject of an NIA enquiry, which focussed on whether the proceeds from the gold smuggling racket were used for financing terrorist activities.

She is currently in the custody of the Customs Department, along with other accused in the case.

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Printable version | Aug 5, 2020 1:43:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/kerala-gold-smuggling-case-former-principal-secretary-sivasankar-grilled-on-association-with-swapna/article32086805.ece

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