While the much-celebrated Kerala model of fighting the pandemic now standing discredited and COVID cases in the state zooming to a new high, another model of Kerala is slowly being revealed to the world. It could be described as Kerala “Model” of Scams. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is being accused of being involved in a huge gold smuggling racket.
Kerala Gold Smuggling Scam
Kerala Gold Smuggling Scam is currently being probed by the ED, NIA and the Customs department and is related to the smuggling of gold in the state through diplomatic channels. The matter had come to light after 30 kg gold worth ₹14.82 crore smuggled in a consignment camouflaged as diplomatic baggage was busted by the Customs in Thiruvananthapuram on 5th of July, 2020.
Swapna Suresh, a former executive secretary at the UAE Consulate-General’s office emerged as a prime suspect for her role in forging Consulate documents to illicitly enjoy diplomatic immunity for gold smuggled from the Gulf.
Swapna Suresh has been photographed with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan multiple times, and had also worked as contract staff in space park of government of Kerala. It is now being established that she was well known and a close confidante to M Sivsankar, former principal secretary to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan seen in in this photograph with prime accused Swapna Suresh
Swapna Suresh’s Close Links with Principal Secretary to CM
Further muddying the waters, according to this report from Times of India, Swapna Suresh has purportedly told Enforcement Directorate that Pinarayi Vijayan had multiple “private meetings” with the consul general of the UAE in 2017 and “unofficially” recommended his suspended former principal secretary M Sivasankar as the state government’s official point of contact with that country’s consulate.
She was also reported as saying that private meetings between Vijayan and the foreign diplomat took place at the CM’s official residence in Thiruvananthapuram. Since the case pertains to gold smuggling using a diplomatic channel, the CM being accused of privately meeting the UAE consul general on several occasions could now lead to questions about protocol violation.
While Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan has consistently denied charges made by Swapna and denied knowing her, his former aide M Siva Sankaran has already been questioned multiple times by National Investigation Agency, Enforcement Directorate and Customs officials over his links with Swapna Suresh and for getting her a job in space park.
Apparently Swapna Suresh in her answer to Enforcement Directorate’s question of why she was selected for the Space Park project by Shri Sivasankar had answered the following way:
“I am known to Sivasankar sir very closely, and I am also known to CM from the time when I was secretary to the consul general. I believe that I am trustworthy and reliable and that may be the reason I have been recommended to PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) and subsequently nominated to the Space Park project. My appointment in Space Park was with the knowledge of the CM.”
Links to Dawood Ibrahim Gang
In a further twist to the case and underlying the serious nature of the scam, National Investigation Agency revealed that accused number 5, K T Ramees and accused 13 M Sharafuddin had visited Tanzania several times where the notorious Dawood Ibrahim Gang has a large footprint, and met with Dawood’s contact Feroze and discussed ways to smuggle firearms into the country.
NIA had also said to the court that profits used in the smuggling were used to fund terror activities.
Pinarayi Vijayan Accused of Helping Sivsankar
Enforcement Directorate (ED) has revealed that the Chief Minister was aware of Swapna Suresh’s appointment under the Information Technology (IT) department. The new revelation that was made in the special court by the ED points fingers to the nature of the role of CM Pinarayi Vijayan and his office.
The charge sheet mentioned that M Shivshankar, the Ex-IT secretary was involved in various financial transactions of Swapna Suresh, and the IT secretary was aware of the bank locker that Swapna started to transfer money on various occasions.
Both BJP and Congress leaders in state have also accused Pinarayi Vijayan of helping accused Sivasankar and have demanded his resignation. Union Minister and BJP leader from Kerala V Muraleedharan said that this smuggling case was different from other smuggling case as it is directly linked with Chief Minister’s office and that accused are hand in glove with those in power. He demanded chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan for losing moral responsibility.
Kerala Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala also said that that the probe by NIA, ED and customs is on the right track and the Chief Minister cannot play hide and seek for a long time. He added that Sivasankaran and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan are mutually helping one another and asked Pinarayi Vijayan to resign before agencies arrest him the probe by the Central agencies is on the right track.
An issue which started as a gold smuggling case has now snowballed into a case with huge national security implications. In a case where the prime accused of gold smuggling which may have been used to fund terror is also said to have close links with sitting Chief Minister of state, wouldn’t it be proper for that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to step down till the case has been properly investigated and his name cleared?