Kerala gold smuggling: After Customs, NIA questions CM Vijayan’s former secretary

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) probing the gold smuggling case on Thursday grilled Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s former principal secretary M Sivasankar. He was suspended from service last week after his alleged link with one of the accused in the case Swapna Suresh surfaced.

He was interrogated by the Customs department for nine hours on July 14. He was instrumental in getting a key post for Suresh in Kerala Information Technology Infrastructure Limited under the state IT department. She allegedly used her proximity with the powerful principal secretary to dabble in corridors of power.

There are reports that he arranged a flat just outside the secretariat for the husband of Swapna Suresh and another accused PS Sarith. The accused had later used this flat for their smuggling activities. Sivasankar had earlier told the Customs that he arranged this over friendship and he did not know about their illegal activities. A senior IAS officer, he was the CM’s blue-eyed boy and was instrumental in bringing many IT and social projects to the state.

In another development, the NIA has sought the CCTV footage of the state secretariat and sent a letter to chief secretary Biswas Mehta in this regard. Earlier, when customs sought this, his office had told them that the cameras developed snags during lightening in May. The NIA has also sought details of the service provider.

When asked about this, the CM did not give a direct reply. “Let the NIA carry out its investigation. Its probe is going in the right direction. Why do you want to jump the gun,” he retorted. But the opposition has stepped up pressure on him. “The probe has reached the office of the CM. He has no moral responsibility to remain in power,” said BJP state president K Surendran. Congress state chief Mullappally Ramachandran also sought his resignation.

The gold smuggling case came to light on July 5 when PS Sarith, a former employee of the UAE consulate in the state capital, was arrested when he went to receive a consignment in the name of an official of the consulate. Later, 30 kg of gold was retrieved from the consignment. Five days later, Swapna Suresh, a senior IT official and her friend Sandip Nair were arrested from their hideout in Bengaluru. Later the case was handed over to the NIA.

The Customs department has deferred the transfer of key officials who are investigating the gold smuggling case following an outrage. The Union Home Ministry has also expressed serious reservations over the issue saying such a controversy should have been avoided when the investigation was going in the right track, a senior official familiar with the development said.

The sudden transfer of six superintendents and two inspectors attached with Kochi unit of the Customs who are part of the ongoing investigation was issued by Mohammad Yousaf, Commissioner of Customs, late on Wednesday. After the issue triggered a controversy the Customs department made it clear that it was a routine transfer and it had been deferred for the time being.

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