The Enforcement Directorate and the Kerala government appear to be heading towards a confrontation over the latter's apparent refusal to part with official papers relating to the controversial Life Mission housing project undertaken with financial help form the UAE charity Red Crescent.
Gold smuggling kingpins Swapna Suresh, Sarith and Sandeep are believed to have received a commission of over Rs 4 crore for ensuring that the contract for constructing the apartment tower went to a company named Unitac. The total financial package from the charity was over Rs 20 crore.
The Enforcement Directorate had sent a letter to the state chief secretary, asking for copies of all the related documents. But the state government has so far refused to hand over the copies, which has forced the Enforcement Directorate to initiate legal proceedings against the state government.
The state government had initially claimed that the transaction was between the construction company and the UAE charity. But subsequent disclosures have revealed that the deal was signed between Life Mission, a state government agency, and the Red Crescent, which is incidentally not authorised to operate in India.
The External Affairs Ministry has questioned the right of the state government to enter into such a transaction without prior approval from the central government. As per the guidelines in this respect, any financial transaction for foreign-assisted projects have to be first approved by the Centre.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had argued that there was no need for central approval as the deal was between two governments. But he has since been proven wrong and the investigators are exploring all possible angles of the transaction, including the possibility of violation of foreign exchange regulations as well as the use of havala.
The investigators are looking at the involvement of M Sivasankaran, the former principal secretary of the chief minister, as well as the CM’s office in questionable transactions. The gold smuggling accused are believed to have visited the state secretariat, which houses the offices of the chief ministers and other ministers, in this connection.
A team from the National Investigation Agency (INA) visited the state secretariat on Tuesday to examine footage of the CCTV cameras in the building. NIA had asked for copies of the visuals since August 2019, but the public administration department, which is in charge of the CCTV, informed the agency that they do not have the hard disk with the required capacity to copy the visuals.
The NIA team also examined the protocol section, where a recent fire is believed to have destroyed certain files. It was the protocol section, which was authorised to issue permission for the import of goods through diplomatic channels. The incident has also triggered suspicions that the fire may have been caused by sabotage.