M Sivashankar, former principal secretary to Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, and his team in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) were aware of the smuggling of gold and other electronic items through the diplomatic channel, the ED has revealed in an affidavit submitted in the court on Wednesday.
As per the affidavit, Swapna Suresh, who is being grilled by NIA (National Investigation Agency), ED (Enforcement Directorate) and Customs in connection with gold smuggling, has stated that Sivashankar and his team in CMO were fully aware of gold smuggling through diplomatic channels.
Swapna was working as an operations manager with Space Park, an entity under Sivashankar’s IT department. She had joined Space Park in 2019, quitting her job in the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram.
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, 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. The smugglers have admitted to the 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.
The affidavit reads that Sivashankar knew all the main accused in the gold smuggling case.
“It is no coincidence that Sivashankar knows all the main accused of gold smuggling, Sarith, Sandeep, and Swapna Suresh. Sivashankar has also acknowledged this fact,” the affidavit reads.
Also, the ED states in the affidavit that Swapna has admitted that Sivashankar had shared crucial information regarding the other government projects including KFON, LIFE Mission, Smart City, and Down Town with her.
Swapna’s statements were recorded on 18 November 2020.
The ED affidavit adds that Sivashankar was also aware of the kickbacks given by M/s Unitac Builders to Swapna and her close associates including Khaled Muhamed Ali Shoukry, an official at UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram, for facilitating the award of a contract from Red Crescent under the LIFE Mission Project to Unitac.
Swapna had told the ED that Rs 1 crore was given to her by Khaled as kickback meant for Sivashankar.
The NIA had subsequently seized this amount from Swapna’s bank lockers, including the one opened on Sivashankar’s directions from which Rs 64 lakh was seized.
Meanwhile, the special court extended ED’s custody of Sivashankar for one more day, and he will be produced in the court again today.
Last week, the court had extended by six more days the custody of Sivashankar to probe details of communication between him and Swapna.
Sivashankar, arrested by the agency on October 28, was earlier sent to seven-day custody of the ED.
The ED, probing the money trail in the gold smuggling case, has alleged multiple offences against Sivashankar. Suspecting money laundering, ED had given a letter to the government seeking details of K-FON, Kochi Smart City, Taurus Down Town, and E-Mobility projects on October 31. All the projects were monitored by Sivashankar.
Sources in the Kerala secretariat told The Lede that megaproject documents, including those of the Kerala Fibre Optic Network Project (K-FON), will be handed over soon to ED.
The Information Technology Department had issued an order entrusting its under-secretary NC Santhosh and section officer Mathew John with the responsibility of carrying the documents to the ED office and handing them over to officials concerned. As per the order, the documents were to be handed over to the ED last Saturday.
However, the visit has been postponed after officials got a direction to seek legal opinion before handing over the documents to the ED.
Meanwhile, talking to The Lede, Ramesh Chennithala, Opposition leader in Kerala, said that Sivashankar and CM Raveendran, additional private secretary, were controlling the gold smuggling racket.
“The Kerala CMO leaked details of all development projects to (accused) Swapna and her team. Based on this, commissions were taken by Sivashankar and others, including the Life Mission project,” he said.
He further alleged that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala was eyeing commissions from large corporates after allotting them various government projects.
“It is feared that Pinarayi Vijayan will be named by probe agencies, which is why the government opposed the CBI probe into the Life Mission scam. Now the party and the CM are targeting investigation agencies and have called for open protests against the central agencies,” Chennithala added.
The ruling CPM maintains a silence over the issue.