Thiruvananthapuram: A minister in the Pinarayi Vijayan government is in the dock in connection with the alleged use of a diplomatic bag to bring copies of the Quran for distribution in his constituency.
Higher Education Minister K T Jaleel has been in the news for his interactions with gold smuggling kingpin Swapna Suresh. The minister had clarified that his exchanges with the controversial ex-employee of the UAE consulate had been in connection with the distribution of food packets as part of the consulate’s zakat programme during the month of Ramadan.
After fears were expressed as to whether the packets could have been used to transport questionable material, it was revealed that the packets, which included religious books, were sent to the office of the Kerala State Centre for Advanced Printing and Training (C-apt) under Jaleel’s ministry for onward distribution in government vehicles.
When the Customs department began investigating the mystery of certain parcels going out of the government-owned establishment, the minister pleaded innocence, insisting that the parcels had contained religious books sent on behalf of the UAE consulate.
The Customs department has now summoned the protocol officer of the state government in this connection and sought to know the number of diplomatic packets that have arrived in the last two years. Customs has also asked BSNL for details of phone calls made by the accused in the gold smuggling case.
Diplomatic bags are cleared by the Customs department on the basis of a certificate issued by the protocol officer. Such certificates are issued after the consulate or diplomatic mission concerned provides details regarding the bag’s contents and then it is countersigned by the protocol officer.
But as per rules, religious books can neither be brought through a diplomatic bag, nor can the state government provide tax exemption on such an import. The investigators are, therefore, puzzled as to how these packets were taken out.
Hence, clarifications have been sought from the protocol officer.
Investigation is also underway to find out whether the gold smuggling accused had forged documents to secure Customs clearance to the contraband. It has been found that the diplomatic cargo containing the religious books was taken out on March 4 this year. The bag reportedly weighed 4479 kg.
Customs is also investigating whether the parcel contained anything other than the religious books.
However, the public administration department of the state government has stated that no reports have been received from the UAE consulate about diplomatic bags in the last two years.