NEWS GOLD SMUGGLING SWAPNA
TVM: A ‘Saritha Nair’ kind of situation is threatening to envelop the Chief Minister’s office after the Customs at the international airport here busted a gold smuggling racket, seized 30kg of gold, and later arrested Sarith, a former Dubai Indian Consulate PRO. Another former employee of the Consulate, Swapna Suresh, who was currently a manager with the State IT Space Park here, is also allegedly involved in the racket, and is absconding since yesterday.
Swapna Suresh was working as liaison officer on contract basis at the IT Park and is said to be linked closely with the state IT secretary M Sivasankar, a confidant of chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. This IAS officer is reportedly behind her appointment in the IT job. Sivasankar was allegedly among the first to make a call to the Customs after Sarith was detained by the Customs.
Sarith posed as the Consulate PRO before the customs even though he had been out of the job, and sought clearance of the cargo he brought in without any checking. Customs officials sensed something was wrong after checking his papers. They made enquiries with the Dubai Consulate and found that Sarith was no more with the consulate.
Sarith was trying to take the gold consignment out by citing diplomatic immunity. He has confessed to the investigating officials late on Sunday that he had done gold smuggling through this channel in the past too, on offer of Rs 15 lakh as compensation for his illegal act.
Swapna Suresh allegedly forged documents of the UAE consulate to mislead the Customs officials.
She was removed from the service on Monday after word spread about her alleged involvement and interference in influencing officials following the gold seizure from the bags of the Dubai UAE Consulate. The gold, in the form of door-fixes etc, was valued at over Rs 13crore.
While Swapna and Sarith were working at the UAE Indian Consulate in the past, UAE’s Indian embassy said both have nothing to with the embassy or consulate as of now. Sarith was arrested from his Poonkulam home.
In the past, the woman was also involved in a case in which she allegedly attempted to frame an airport official, Shibu, in a false case of molestation she filed against the officer – which she later retracted. The Crime Branch had interrogated in this connection on a couple of occasions recently, but she hid this and obtained job with the state IT cell, and IT secretary M Sivasankar helped her get the job, sources say.
CM REJECTS ALLEGATIONS
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan reacted to allegations from Opposition that the CM’s office was misused to save the accused in the gold smuggling racket. The CM said the case would be thoroughly investigated and guilty taken to task. He said he did not know how Swapna Suresh managed to get into the IT cell of the state government.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said he suspected that the CMO was involved in the gold smuggling racket. BJP state president K Surendran said the first call came to the Customs from the chief minister’s office, after Sarith was arrested at the airport. This meant the CM’s office was having some link with the smuggling racket, he said.
Meanwhile, Customs officials conducted a raid on the flat of Swapna Suresh at Ambalakukku on Monday. Details have not been disclosed. Residents told media personnel that IT Secretary M Sivasankar IAS was a regular visitor at Swapna’s apartment until she shifted from there in 2018. She later took up a job with the UAE consulate. The Opposition has alleged that IT secretary also has a hand in the gold smuggling racket.
Notably, the straddling of a self-styled entrepreneur Saritha S Nair in the CMO and the corridors of power, seeking government support for her solar energy projects, had led to a massive scandal during the previous Oommen Chandy led UDF government’s period between 2009 and 2014.
There was some surprise on Monday, when Governor Arif Mohd Khan put on display a picture of Swapna Suresh walking with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at an IT event, and the governor withdrawing it from the twitter page in a matter of half an hour. His office explained that a wrong picture of an event on July 5 in which the governor participated was put inadvertently, and then removed.
TVM AIRPORT NOTORIOUS FOR SMUGGLING
The International airport here is notorious for gold smuggling. Several seizures have been effected in the past. Gold merchants here and several Malayalam film industry people are allegedly having a direct involvement in this racket, which is helping several people including officials and ruling party politicians to make money in crores.
Kerala’s close connections with the Gulf and the regular operation of a substantially high number of flights from the UAE to here are among the reasons for the massive gold smuggling via this airport. The network is very strong and has political links too. IHN-NN
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