Kerala

Kerala gold smuggling case: NIA sleuths question Sivasankar

M. Sivasankar, former Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, coming out of the Police Club in the capital after being questioned by the NIA on Thursday.   | Photo Credit: S. Mahinsha

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Thursday questioned M. Sivasankar, former Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, in connection with its probe into the smuggling of gold into the country via air cargo shipments addressed to the consulate of the United Arab Emirates here.

The optics of Mr. Sivasankar’s arrival at the Police Club, the temporary seat of the NIA team, seemed to create the perception that the agency’s high-profile probe had come awkwardly close to the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO).

‘On right track’

When pressed at his daily COVID-19 news briefing, Mr. Vijayan made light of the development. “The NIA is on the right track. Why should we dwell upon the probe? Let the agency strike its own course,” he said.

Mr. Sivasankar, who was escorted into the building by NIA officials at 4.30 p.m., remained cooped up indoors with investigators till 9 p.m.

A State police official privy to the NIA’s procedure said the process of recording Mr. Sivasankar's statement was protracted. He said the long hours spend with the investigators were no indication of guilt. The NIA had a lot of ground to cover. The Customs had also questioned Mr. Sivasankar for several hours last week.

Mr. Sivasankar's alleged association with Swapna Suresh, second accused in the case, had cast him into the vortex of two parallel probes, one by the Customs and the other by the NIA.

It had also cost him his twin positions as Principal Secretary to Mr. Vijayan and chief of the IT Department.

Chief Secretary probe

An inquiry by Chief Secretary Vishwas Mehta had found that Mr. Sivasankar had “made a reference to appoint a person (Swapna),” working at the time as secretary to the Consul General, UAE, as Operations Manager, Space Park.

The committee had also pointed out that “such association and frequent contacts with a foreign consulate official” violated the All India Service Conduct Rules, 1968. It said it had recommended Mr. Sivasankar’s suspension from service “in view of the wider ramifications of this case”.

A senior State official said the committee’s finding and statements of other accused in the case had prompted the NIA to examine Mr. Sivasankar. The question whether the proceeds from the well-entrenched smuggling operation had gone to “finance terrorism” was central to the NIA probe. The agency was also purportedly investigating whether any person had remotely aided a foreign power. Mr. Sivasankar had repeatedly maintained his innocence. He had told the Customs that he knew Ms. Swapna at a familial level and had no knowledge of the crime or other aspects of her character.

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2020 2:49:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/kerala-gold-smuggling-case-nia-sleuths-question-sivasankar/article32176177.ece

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