Hawala deal: Customs may quiz Kerala Speaker

Thiruvananthapuram

Customs plans to call Kerala Assembly Speaker Sreeramakrishnan sometime next week in the dollar havala scam, a leading local television channel disclosed.

The Customs action is in the wake of depositions by key gold smuggling suspects Swapna Suresh and Sarith. They reportedly claimed Sreeramakrishhan had called them to a flat and handed over a bag containing dollars to be delivered to the UAE consulate.

Customs apparently is aware of the propriety of calling a constitutional authority such as the Speaker on the basis of claims by two accused. So, it is taking steps to collect the maximum evidence to support their charge.

The agency has summoned the drivers of the consul general and the attache in the consulate to quiz them about their knowledge of the suspicious activity. One of the drivers had earlier been called once for questioning and was let off.

Curiously, the said driver had staged a suicide drama in the wake of the arrests of Swapna and Sarith, but was rushed to the hospital, where he was healed of a cut in his wrist.

After the sensational gold smuggling through diplomatic channel was busted in July last year, several photographs of Swapna Suresh with persons of high authority had appeared in the media. One of the photos had Speaker Sreeramakrishnan attending the inauguration of an auto service establishment owned by one of the accused, on the invitation of Swapna.

In the wake of the recording of confidential statement by Swapna and Sarith, the court had observed it was shocked to hear the name of a constitutional authority had cropped up, leading to media speculation it might be the Speaker.

State BJP president K Surendran stopped short of naming the person, but claimed he had the name of god, obviously a reference to Ram and Krishna in the Speaker’s name.

In response to this, the Speaker had even called a press conference, where he denied the allegation, claiming he knew Swapna only as an employee of the consulate and he had never met her during Dubai visit.

Although Sreeramakrishnan denounced the move to drag the office of the Speaker into the clandestine deal, media covering the presser did not miss the lack of confidence in his body language.

Against this backdrop, the Customs move to question the Speaker becomes a significant development.

Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala and BJP leader Surendran demanded the immediate resignation of the Speaker as his continuation in office would be a disgrace to the country and its people.

With the state assembly set to convene on January 8 for the budget session, the Speaker will in all probability excuse himself from appearing before Customs on the plea that he is busy with the session.

Given that there is just about a week left for the assembly to meet, it leaves the question open as to if the investigators would press for a meeting when the house is in session.

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