Ramesh Chennithala denies he accepted expensive mobile phone from smuggling case accused

Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala. File   | Photo Credit: S. GOPAKUMAR

Thiruvananthapuram Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala on Friday denied that he had received an expensive mobile phone as a gift from Swapna Suresh, the second accused in the high-profile case relating to the smuggling of gold in bulk via air cargo consignments addressed to officials at the UAE consulate here.

Politicians from the ruling front had attempted to cast Mr. Chennithala under the spotlight after a private builder said in a court filing in Ernakulam recently that he had purchased five cell phones at the behest of Swapna in 2019.

She had purportedly told the builder that UAE consulate would make a present of the devices to dignitaries attending an Iftar party hosted by the diplomatic mission in December that year.

Mr. Chennithala was one of the invitees. At the time, Swapna was a consulate employee who often officiated as the master of ceremonies at events organised by the diplomatic mission.

Mr Chennithala said he remembered having attended the Iftar function. The organisers had welcomed him with a shawl, which he gave away immediately. He had not accepted any gift though there was a raffle for attendees.

The ruling front had raised the allegation to divert public attention from its wrongdoings. Mr Chennithala said he would legally challenge the builder's submission in court.

Bribe component

The issue had become a subject of heated political debate in Kerala after some quarters claimed that the mobile phones were a minor component of the substantial bribe the builder had allegedly paid Swapna and other intermediaries to bag the UAE consulate's contract to construct 140 dwellings for the poor in Thrissur via Life Mission, the flagship programme of the Kerala government to provide free housing for the poor.

The UAE Red Crescent had offered to underwrite the project through the country's diplomatic mission in Thiruvananthapuram.

The contract came under a cloud after the CBI opened an investigation against Life Mission and the builder on the charge of violating the provisions of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act based on a complaint filed by Congress leader Anik Ankara, MLA.

MLA's charge

Mr Ankara had alleged that the builder and a private consultancy, with the tacit approval of Life Mission, had accepted aid from a foreign charity illegally. The respondents gave away a portion of the foreign aid as a bribe to persons who facilitated the agreement, he had alleged.

Govt. opposes CBI

The CBI case provoked the government to challenge the agency in the High Court. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on Thursday that the CBI had intervened with the federal system. The agency's case against Life Mission was untenable. The State agency was only a facilitator. The contract was between the UAE consulate and the builder. The government was not a party to their transactions. The CPM had also accused the CBI of conducting itself in a politically partisan manner in Kerala.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 4:29:14 PM |

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