The Leader of Opposition in the Kerala Assembly Ramesh Chennithala on Tuesday shot off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking CBI probe into the alleged “influence of the smuggling cartel” at the office of Chief Minister of Kerala.
The opposition has been up in arms against the ruling Left in the state over the recent seizure of over 30 kg of gold from the International Airport which was attempted to be smuggled into the state through diplomatic baggage.
Chennithala in his letter said on July 4, the Customs authorities at Thiruvananthapuram seized gold worth “Rs 30 crore illegally brought to our country” from a consignment addressed to the “UAE consulate.”
Chennithala said a former employee of the consulate was arrested in connection with the case and a woman is allegedly the kingpin of the racket.
She was employed till yesterday (July 6, 2020) as Operations Manager with Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Ltd, under Kerala Government’s IT department “and is suspected to be the mastermind in the smuggling.
She is absconding and currently the Customs Department has launched a search for her,” he said.
The senior congress leader also cited media reports which claim that the woman has close ties with M Sivsankar, Secretary of Kerala’s Information Technology Department.
Earlier in the day,the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) said Sivasankar has been removed as Secretary to CM and replaced by Mir Mohammed, another IAS officer, who will hold additional charge.
Chennithala also stated that the UAE government, in an official communique, had condemned the misuse of diplomatic channels of their consulate and stated that its mission and diplomatic staff have no role in it. “The issue of misusing diplomatic channels is a violation of the clauses of the Geneva Convention of the UN which grants immunity to diplomatic baggage,” Chennithala alleged and sought a CBI inquiry.
Citing media reports, he said the” influence of the smuggling cartel” at the “office of Chief Minister of Kerala” and the nexus between politicians, government officials and the smugglers points to a “grave situation” warranting an investigation by an agency which has authority and freedom to act impartially.
Meanwhile, the Congress and the BJP lashed out at Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan over the gold seizure, saying he was looking for scapegoats in the matter.
Their comments came even as Kerala IT Secretary M Sivasankar was removed as Secretary to CM, in the backdrop of the gold smuggling controversy,where the role of a former woman employee of the IT department is being probed.
BJP chief K Surendran, who met the media at Kozhikode, claimed many CPI(M) leaders have good rapport with the woman against whom an investigation is on.
Speaking to reporters, Chennithala alleged that the chief minister was looking for scapegoats.
“He was trying to protect the IT Secretary but when he was sure that the probe would reach the CM’s office, he made a scapegoat out of Sivasankar.
The Chief Minister cannot avoid the responsibility.
He cannot solve this crisis just by removing someone else in the department,” Chennithala said.
Surendran alleged that the woman was known to the Chief minister since September 2017 when she played a major role in organising some five-day programmes in connection with the visit of a Sharjah sheik.
Vijayan had told reporters on Monday that he was unaware of the factors behind her appointment and would look into the matter.
Meanwhile, CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan in a statement said a comprehensive probe should be conducted into the matter and all those involved in the gold smuggling case should be brought before justice.
He asserted that those involved will not be spared.
“They will not get any sort of help from the Left Democratic Front (LDF) nor the state government.Those who are responsible will face justice.
We hope the Customs officials, which is a central agency will bring out the truth,” Balakrishnan said.
The racket came to light when the Customs on Monday arrested a man, who claimed himself to be a former employee of a foreign country’s consulate in Kerala, in connection with the seizure of gold worth over Rs 15 crore from a “diplomatic baggage” at an airport in the state.
The man was arrested following his interrogation in connection with the seizure of gold from the diplomatic baggage from Thiruvananthapuram international airport on Sunday, the Customs officials said.
The gold weighing over 30 kg was seized from a diplomatic baggage that had landed by air cargo at Thiruvananthapuram international airport recently.
The Customs has said it suspected a smuggling syndicate had misused the name of a person who enjoys diplomatic immunity.
Customs personnel have said they were looking for a woman, also claiming herself to be a former employee of the consulate in Thiruvananthapuram, in connection with the case.
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