M Sivashankar, former principal secretary of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Kerala government IT Secretary, had called Customs officials to get the smuggled 30 kg gold released, a document seen by The Lede reveals.
Sivashankar was taken into custody by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Wednesday morning and his arrest was recorded officially late in the night in the UAE-Kerala diplomatic channel gold smuggling case.
The Enforcement Directorate’s arrest order seen by The Lede reveals that Sivashankar had agreed on October 15 that he had called the Customs to get the smuggled gold released upon his friend and subordinate Swapna Suresh’s request.
On July 01, 30 kg of gold concealed in cargo weighing 70 kg was sent from UAE to Kerala through diplomatic channels. The cargo was addressed to UAE Consulate Admin Attaché Rashid Al Shemeli.
The cargo was seized by Customs officials and opened with the approval of the Ministry of External Affairs.
Following the seizure, Swapna, who was working with Space Park, an entity under the IT department, her accomplice Sarith PS, a former PRO with the UAE Consulate, and Sandeep Nair, a Thiruvananthapuram-based businessman, were arrested.
In addition to Swapna, Sarith and Sandeep, 20 people are under custody of different probe agencies, including the National Investigation Agency (NIA), as they see terror links in the gold smuggling case. This week the NIA had even secured the arrest of a Keralite, Rabins KT from UAE, in connection with the UAE-Kerala gold smuggling case.
The accused had admitted to probe agencies that they had smuggled gold 21 times between November 2019 and June 2020 through diplomatic channels and they even did two trial runs in June 2019.
A document seen by The Lede reveals that, in all, around 166 kg of gold was smuggled in 21 times.
Sivashankar was questioned by different probe agencies for his connection with UAE-Kerala gold smuggling accused Swapna and Sarith. Sivashankar had helped Swapna open a bank locker with his chartered accountant P Venugopal.
Sivashankar’s statements given to probe agencies and WhatsApp chats with Venugopal and Swapna reveal that Sivashankar was aware of Swapna’s alleged money laundering.
On October 15, Sivashankar had given a statement to ED that he had called a senior Customs official to get the gold cargo released without examination.
And on October 16, when he was summoned by Customs for further questioning, he fell ill and was admitted to a private hospital in Thiruvananthapuram and later on moved to Thiruvananthapuram Medical College.
According to media reports, Sivashankar had claimed chest pain. However examination had revealed that he was not suffering from any ailments.
During the first week of October, Sivashankar had approached the courts to evade an arrest. And the courts had stopped probe agencies from arresting Sivashankar till October 28.
On Wednesday, when the court told the probe agencies that arrest can be made, within minutes, Sivashankar was taken into custody by ED.
Seven Years Jail
The ED has stated in the arrest order that Sivashankar is guilty of violating Section 3 and punishable under Section 4 of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) 2002.
Section 3 of Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 defines “money laundering” as “Whosoever attempts to indulge in any process or activity connected proceeds of crime including its concealment, possession, acquisition or use and projecting or claiming it as untainted property shall be guilty of offence of money-laundering.”
Section 4 states that whoever “commits the offence of money-laundering shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than three years but which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to Rs 5 lakh.”
Meanwhile, Sivashankar’s arrest has put the ruling Left Democratic Front on the backfoot.
Even though Communist Party of India (Marxist) has not come out with an official statement, Kerala Law Minister AK Balan told the media – “Sivashankar appeared before ED, NIA and Customs Department and gave his statement. If he is made an accused in the case, nobody will raise their voice against it. Those who made mistakes should face the consequences as well. This is not a blow to the government.”
“All governments will have such officials working under them. The Chief Minister or other ministers will not be able to understand them completely. These kinds of officers should be brought before the law,” he had said.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala has demanded Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s resignation after Sivashankar was taken into custody by ED officials.
Chennithala said Pinarayi should not cling on to power as he has lost the right to continue in office.
Talking to reporters at Cantonment House, Chennithala said the corrupt practices were led by none other than Pinarayi and that he should be grilled by the investigation team.
On Thursday, the ED will present Sivashankar before court.
Despite the court being closed, a special sitting has been arranged and according to sources, ED has sought custody of Sivashankar for one week.