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Kerala gold smuggling case: NIA takes accused Swapna Suresh, Sandeep Nair into custody

The seizure of 30 kilogram of smuggled gold from a diplomatic cargo addressed to the UAE Consulate-General Office in Thiruvananthapuram last Sunday has emerged as a major controversy in Kerala.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram |
Updated: July 12, 2020 10:41:21 am
Swapna Suresh (in black) along with other accused in the gold smuggling case.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Saturday arrested Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair, the accused in the Kerala gold smuggling case, from Bengaluru, official sources confirmed.

Sources said both the accused will be produced in a court in Bengaluru for obtaining a transit warrant and would later be taken to NIA office in Kochi.

Their arrests came a day after the NIA registered an FIR in the case pertaining to the seizure of 30 kg of gold from a diplomatic cargo addressed to the Consul-General of UAE in Thiruvananthapuram last Sunday. The Ministry of Home Affairs had Thursday handed over the case from Customs to the NIA, considering its international ramifications.

The NIA has listed Consulate office former PRO Sarith P S as the main accused. Sarith was arrested by the Customs last Monday. Besides, Swapna Suresh, her friend Sandeep Nair and Sharjah-based Fazil Fareed, who had sent the consignment to the consulate, were also named as accused.

The case triggered a political storm as Swapna was reported close to senior IAS officer M Sivasankar, who had been IT secretary as well as the principal secretary to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Following the scandal, Sivasankar was removed from both posts.

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In the FIR submitted in the high court, the agency said initial enquiries have revealed that the proceeds of smuggled gold could be used for financing of terrorism in India.

The investigating agency said the consignment was found camouflaged in diplomatic baggage from the UAE that is exempted from inspection as per the Vienna Convention. The said consignment was to be received by Sarith. Initial investigation by Customs revealed that Sarith had received multiple such consignments earlier as well.

Taking over the case, the NIA said as the case pertains to smuggling of large quantity of gold into India from offshore locations threatening the economic stability and national security of the country, it amounts to a terrorist act as stated in section 15 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

Swapna, who had worked with the state IT Department after being removed from the Consulate as its executive secretary, had moved an anticipatory bail application in the high court, which posted verdict to next Tuesday.

The Customs, while objecting the bail application of Swapna, had informed the Kerala high court that the accused gang had smuggled gold in the past, including for other gangs, under the guise of diplomatic cargo. In a written submission in the high court, the Customs said, “involvement of higher government officials (in the smuggling) cannot be ruled out at this stage, which can only be unearthed if the investigating agency is permitted to interrogate Swapna.’’

Customs had earlier also inspected Sandeep’s residence, who runs a workshop, but had gone into hiding. Swapna also had been absconding since last Saturday, after the Customs decided to examine the diplomatic cargo for contraband.

The Customs told the court that their “investigation so far revealed that the consignment sought to be imported as a diplomatic cargo contained 30244.90 grams of gold, supposedly without the knowledge of Consul Charge D Affairs of the Consulate.’’

Referring to the acting Consul statement, the Customs said the Consul has confirmed that he used to take the help of Sarith for odd jobs.

About Sarith’s modus operandi, the Customs said he had directly paid clearing charges for contraband cargo himself in cash against the general practice of making such payments by the Consulate through RTGS. Sarith allegedly used to take deliveries of contraband cargo himself by his car as against the general practice of taking routine delivery through the vehicle of the Consulate.

The Customs had also recorded the statement of Sandeep’s wife Soumya B S who told them that Sandeep used to smuggle gold inter alia with the help of Swapna, Sarith and others under the guise of diplomatic cargo. Swapna used to arrange papers for getting cargo of the consulate cleared from the air cargo complex.

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