We have heard about the Kerala gold smuggling scandal and the consequent uproar over it in the state. Now, while we know there have been various turn of events, here is what happened so far and what we should know about the scandal;
What’s the case?
Custom officers at Thiruvananthapuram international airport seized 30 kg gold worth Rs 15 crore from a consignment meant for the Consulate of the United Arab Emirates in the city. The main accused, a woman identified as Swapna Suresh, is currently absconding after calls for her arrest.
According to a reports, another person, identified as Sarith Nair, also involved in the scandal, was an employee of the consulate. The report added that Nair, a former Public Relations Officer at the consulate, used a fake identity card to collect the bag that had the smuggled gold. While Sarith was arrested, information about Swapna’s role as the kingpin came during interrogation.
Who is Swapna Suresh?
While Swapna Suresh has been sacked, the opposition has targeted the Kerala Chief Minister’s Office. This is because the IT Department where Swapna was working was directly under the purview of the Kerala Chief Minister’s Office.
Swapna Suresh is also former employee of the UAE Consulate. If you Google search her name, you can find her LinkedIn profile. However, on clicking it, it appears as if she has put all necessary filters to ensure a third-party cannot see her profile details. However, her Facebook profile, which is open, had her last post, dated in April. This hasn’t stopped people flooding her timeline to troll her about the scandal in the past few hours.
IAS officer M Sivasankar removed from IT secretary post
Kerala government on Tuesday removed IAS officer M Sivasankar from the post of IT secretary.
The government said that Mohammed Y. Safirulla will be the new IT secretary.
When the scam came to light, the chief minister had tried to distance himself by insisting that he was not aware of the appointment of the dubious woman. But with these claims failing to cut ice, he was forced to act.
Sivasankaran was first removed as the principal secretary in the morning, which meant that the embattled official would hold on to his IT department post. But this provided further ammunition to the opposition, whose leaders addressed a series of press conferences to mount their attack, forcing the chief minister to remove his man from the secretary’s post as well.
The axing of the IT secretary happened even as Congress workers took out protest marches in various parts of the state in apparent violation of Covid protocol, for which some of them were taken into custody. Both Congress and BJP have threatened state-wide protests on Wednesday.
He asserted that neither the chief minister’s office nor the IT department had any connection with the accused woman as she was only on a contract job with the department. He pointed out that she was brought to the department by a placement agency for a marketing assignment on a contract basis. She was not appointed by the department, he claimed.
Vijayan said that Sivasankaran was not removed for his connection with the gold smuggling, but in view of the public perception about the man after television channels aired footage of the woman’s neighbours saying that he was a regular visitor to her house.
UAE launches investigation
The authorities in United Arab Emirates have launched an investigation in the gold smuggling case to find out who sent the cargo containing gold to the address of UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram.
The Embassy said that the culprits have not only committed a major crime but also "sought to tarnish the reputation of the UAE mission in India" and they will not be spared.
"The authorities in the UAE have launched an investigation to find out who sent the cargo containing gold to the address of the UAE consulate," the UAE Embassy in New Delhi said in a tweet.
"The authorities have stressed that the culprits who not only committed a major crime but also sought to tarnish the reputation of the UAE mission in India will not be spared. We remain committed to cooperating with Indian authorities in getting to the root of the crime," it added.
Later, Embassy of the UAE has issued a statement admitting that "former locally hired employee of the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram was responsible for this act."
The statement reads, "The Embassy of the UAE in India utterly condemns the attempted misuse of diplomatic channels by an individual engaged in smuggling activity. The Embassy firmly rejects such acts and unequivocally affirms that the mission and its diplomatic staff had no role in this matter."
The Embassy further went on to add that a former employee was responsible for the act. "Initial inquiries conducted by the mission revealed that a former locally hired employee of the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram was responsible for this act. The employee in question was fired for misconduct long preceding this incident. At this time, it appears that this individual exploited his knowledge of the mission's channels to engage in criminal activity," the Embassy revealed.
Swapna's brother is not in talking terms with her
Swapna Suresh was reportedly not in talking terms with her elder brother.
Speaking to a Malayalam TV channel from the US on Wednesday, her brother Bright Suresh said that was not in talking terms with Swapna.
"We are three siblings, and I am the eldest one. We were all in the UAE and when I turned 17, I left for the the US from where I graduated. Now I am settled in the US and work with a telecom company. Swapna is the second sibbling while our youngest brother is settled in India," said Suresh.
Their parents are settled in the suburbs of the state capital.
"When I went home a few years back, she had threatened me and warned me that if I didn't return to the US, my hands and legs will be chopped. She was upset because she felt that I would get a share of the property, which she didn't want. Me and my brother occasionally speak, and that's it. I interact with my mother. My parents will decide on the property. I earn my own living," said Suresh.
Opposition order probe
The Congress-led UDF and BJP-led NDA on Wednesday demanded Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's resignation and a probe into the gold smuggling case allegedly involving a woman working in the IT Department. The Congress said a CBI investigation was needed in the case.
Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala told the media on: "Vijayan on Tuesday said that he does not know this lady. It is a bluff as she has been seen moving close to Vijayan at a few functions. In January, at a two-day high-level Space Conference held at the Kovalam Raveez Hotel, the Chief Minister was at the meeting for four hours and this controversial lady was the host. All people know the relation between Vijayan and Sivasankar. Vijayan has now tried to wash his hands off by booting out Sivasankar from key posts. This clearly shows that he now fears the finger of suspicion will be on him. He should now order a CBI probe and then quit," said Chennithala.
"... Kerala police failed to act as reports now point out that the gold smuggling gang by now has done a business of over Rs 100 crore. Also there are reports that gold was moved in state government vehicles. So, demand that the terms of reference of any probe should include the CM's office also," said Chennithala.
The Congress leader said that Vijayan's claim that none from his office had called up the Customs was not true since it had been denied by a top Customs official, who has pointed out that they will call all those who called them to release the baggage containing gold.
State BJP president K. Surendran also pointed out that Vijayan's office has a crucial role in the case and hence he should quit and face the probe.
"A detailed probe into the foreign trips of Vijayan's top officials is needed. What Vijayan should have done first when this news came was to immediately order a high-level probe," said Surendran.
The BJP on Wednesday also organised protests to demand Vijayan's resignation, while Congress-led UDF will take to the streets to demand the same on Thursday.
As Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan came under fire in the gold smuggling case involving the former PRO of the UAE consulate here and a Kerala woman on Tuesday, Vijayan said he is ready for any probe and it is the Centre's call.
"We have no say in it, we are ready for any probe and the Centre can decide whichever agency should probe this," said Vijayan.
(With inputs from FPJ's K Raveendaran and Agencies)