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Customs links Kerala CM to gold smuggling; cheap politics: LDF

This is the first time that the Customs has made an allegation against the Chief Minister, although the name of his former principal secretary M Sivasankar had figured in probes by multiple central agencies looking into various aspects of the gold smuggling and related cases.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram |
Updated: March 13, 2021 6:29:48 pm
dollar smuggling case, Kerala gold smuggling case, Pinarayi VijayanSuresh had also alleged that the Chief Minister had close connection with the previous Consul General of UAE and gave statements that illegal monetary transactions were carried out, the Customs said. (File Photo)

Sending political temperatures soaring ahead of the Assembly elections in the state, the Customs has informed the Kerala High Court that Swapna Suresh, key accused in the gold smuggling case, “stated with clarity about smuggling of foreign currency at the instance of” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan, and “about the improper and illegal activities of three Ministers of the State Cabinet and the Speaker”.

These claims were made by Sumit Kumar, Commissioner of Customs (Preventive), Kochi, in an affidavit filed in the High Court Thursday.

On Friday, Customs sources said Speaker Sreeramakrishnan has been asked to before the Customs on March 12.

The Customs affidavit opposed a petition by the Director General of Prisons and Correctional Services, Kerala, who challenged an order of the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Court which had directed grant of protection to Swapna in prison.

Swapna had earlier alleged threat to her life, claiming she had been “intimidated” in prison and “warned of dire consequences” if she revealed “names of high-profile persons involved in the smuggling activities”.

Citing Swapna’s statements recorded under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and Section 108 of the Customs Act, the Customs affidavit stated: “She has made shocking revelations about the Chief Minister’s close connections with the previous Consul General of UAE and the illegal monetary transactions carried out. Her close connection with the Chief Minister and his Principal Secretary and a personal staff was also revealed by the lst respondent” – Swapna is the first respondent in the matter before the High Court.

This is the first time that Customs has made an allegation against the Chief Minister, although his former principal secretary M Sivasankar’s alleged role had figured in probes by multiple central agencies inquiring into smuggling and related cases. The Speaker’s personal staff had been questioned by the Customs in January.

In its affidavit, the Customs said Swapna also “stated about the involvement and the kickbacks received by high-profile persons from various deals. The lst Respondent had stated that she is aware of all these transactions and was a witness to the same as she is well versed in Arabic language and hence was forced to act as the translator between the above said persons and persons of Middle East origin in all their crucial interactions”.

“The role of former Principal Secretary in acting as the link between the high-profile politicians of Kerala and the UAE Consulate officials as well as some others and in coordinating the illegal financial dealings under the cover of various activities and projects of the State Government was also revealed by her,” it stated.

Underlining that her statements “expose highly illegal, improper and immoral activities by the above said persons who are occupying high offices in the state government”, the Customs said it was prepared to produce copies of the statements “in sealed cover for perusal by this Hon’ble Court at the time of final hearing of the above case or as and when directed by this Hon’ble Court”.

“It may kindly be noticed that most of the facts revealed in the statement are matters which are exclusively within the personal knowledge of the lst respondent and can be tendered as evidence in appropriate proceedings only by her. During the further proceedings in the case or in other proceedings that may arise in future, the disclosures made by the 1st respondent will have serious impact and are likely to cause serious prejudice to the persons above said,” it said.

“They being high profile politicians and holding high positions in the government are capable of repelling by all means. Therefore, the apprehension of the lst respondent regarding her safety in prison and threat to her life is perfectly justified. She cannot be found fault with for seeking protection as the facts disclosed being highly sensitive,” the affidavit stated.

Stating “there is absolutely no justification for the petitioner” – the Director General of Prisons and Correctional Services — “to approach this Hon’ble Court in the above Crl MC challenging an order passed by the jurisdictional court to ensure safety of an accused in judicial custody”, the Customs said the “approach of the petitioner is disgraceful”. It also denied the allegation that when Swapna’s custody “was granted on 25.11.2020, the lst respondent was taken out of the prison by a Superintendent of Customs alone in rented vehicle without any care and protection”.

“Personnel from the CRPF had been providing protection to the Customs team probing the case and to the accused also, while in custody,” the affidavit stated.

The Chief Minister and his cabinet colleagues have not commented on the Customs’ claims before the High Court.

The CPM state secretariat, in a release, targeted the BJP over the Customs affidavit. “BJP is upset over the image of the Chief Minister and the government. The investigating agencies have stooped to the level of campaign tools. Kerala would give a fitting reply to the challenge thrown by the BJP-Congress combine. The Customs action is a blatant violation of the poll code and a misuse of investigating agencies… Those who are engaged in cheap politics should realise that this is Kerala,” the CPM release stated.

The ruling LDF said it would take out marches to all Customs offices in Kerala on Saturday in protest against the “political game to defame the Chief Minister and the government”.

The Opposition Congress and BJP, on the other hand, sought the resignation of the Chief Minister.

Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala of Congress said the Customs had obtained the Section 164 statement of Swapna two months ago. “Why did the agency not take any action against the Chief Minister and other ministers? The probe had been frozen following the revelations against the Chief Minister and others. It shows the mutual understanding between CPM and BJP,” he said.

BJP state president K Surendran said Vijayan should step down from office. “He cannot escape by raising excuses… the alleged crime is of grave nature,” he said.

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