Gold smuggling in Kerala: NIA files indictment against 20 defendants
The National Investigative Agency (NIA) investigating the Kerala gold smuggling case on Tuesday filed the first charge sheet against selected defendants in a special court in Kochi. In a surprise move, the fourth defendant in the Sandip Nair case, who was arrested along with the main defendant Swapna Suresh from his hiding place in Bengaluru in July, was approved in the case.
The NIA filed the first charge sheet as some of the defendants planned to switch court to get a bond citing their 6-month court custody. Twenty people have been named on the charge sheet and were registered under Sections 16, 17, 18 and 20 of the Illicit Activities Prevention Act, the NIA said in a statement.
But IAS senior officer M Sivasankar, who was Prime Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s secretary, was not listed on the initial charge sheet. The Directorate of Execution (ED) had arrested him in connection with money laundering related to the smuggling case. Among the 35 detainees, 20 are listed on the first charge sheet. A senior official familiar with the investigation said an additional charge sheet will be filed later as the investigation progresses. He also said that intensive efforts are underway to extradite some of the defendants who are in West Asian countries.
The charge sheet was filed by investigating officer Radhakrishna Pillai with the NIA court. Earlier, while listening to bail statements from some of the defendants, the court had repeatedly asked the agency to present evidence of the angle of terror in the case. This is the first time the agency has slapped the UAPA, which is generally invoked for terrorist incidents, in a smuggling case.
“The investigation revealed that the defendants had knowingly conspired since June 2019, raised funds and smuggled from the United Arab Emirates, between November 19 and June 20, around 167 kilograms of gold, through the import cargo directed to diplomats at the UAE general consular office in Thiruvananthapuram, ”the NIA said. The main defendant in the case also planned to smuggle more gold from countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, adding that eight defendants were on the run. The case was registered by the central agency on July 10.
The sensational gold smuggling case came to light on July 5 after Customs confiscated 30 kg of the yellow metal from a package disguised as a diplomatic shipment headed to the UAE consulate in the state capital. Subsequently, PS Sarith Kumar, a former consulate public relations officer who came to receive the luggage, was arrested by Customs. Customs sniffed out trouble after many household items were imported through the consular office.
Five days later, two other suspects, Swapna Suresh and her accomplice Sandip Nair, were arrested at their hideout in Bengaluru by the NIA. Later, IAS Senior Officer M Sivasankar, Kerala CM’s Chief Secretary, was arrested after his alleged ties to Suresh emerged.
Now a multi-agency team involving five central agencies is investigating the case and has arrested 34 people. The Law Enforcement Directorate had questioned another Chief Minister’s secretary, CM Raveendran, and the Minister of State, KT Jaleel, a couple of times in relation to the case.
Meanwhile, Spokesperson P Sivaramakrishnan’s additional private secretary, K Ayyappan, who was subpoenaed by Customs in connection with the case, did not appear before the agency. He subsequently informed the Customs Commissioner that he would appear after receiving proper notification. There is strong speculation that the Speaker will also be summoned. There are many complaints that say that he traveled with some of the defendants while traveling abroad.