Thursday, July 01, 2021

Kerala gold smuggling case: A year on, it's 24-carat confusion, 916 mystery

Kochi: Confusion and anxiety prevailed at the cargo complex of the Thiruvananthapuram airport in the first week of July last year when a customs team intercepted suspicious baggage sent through the diplomatic channel from Dubai. The scene is not much different even after a year.

While the initial confusion was over the worsening of diplomatic relations between two friendly nations had the officials dared to check the baggage, now the customs are too perplexed to find a logical conclusion to the high-profile case that had rocked the state.

As many as nine cases were registered by the five central agencies and two state agencies that have been probing various angles related to the seizure of 30.245 kg of gold from the baggage addressed to a UAE diplomat at the Thiruvananthapuram consulate. However, nobody still knows who had sent the gold and who the end receiver was.

It was in the early hours of July 1 that the baggage containing gold from Dubai was withheld by the customs at the cargo complex. On record, it was a parcel sent by a Thrissur native, Faizal Fareed, from Dubai containing an invoice of Al Zatar Spices Sharjah addressed to UAE Consulate Admin Attache Rashed Khamis Alimusaiqri AI Ashmei.

The customs refused to clear the baggage and wrote to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) seeking permission to open it the same day. MEA wrote to the UAE Embassy for a no-objection certificate to open the baggage on July 2 and July 3, for which the permission was granted on July 4. On July 5, the baggage was opened and moulded gold in various forms were recovered in the presence of Rashed. The subsequent investigation revealed that as many as 167 kg of gold was brought in through the same channel on 21 occasions.

Soon, central agencies like NIA, RAW, ED and Income Tax joined the probe with the customs. State agencies -- vigilance and crime branch -- also started to probe angles dictated by the state government. In the run up to the assembly polls, the LDF government announced a Judicial Commission led by Justice V K Mohan to probe whether the central agencies had tried to frame Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and other ministers in the case.

What had made the case a national headline was the alleged involvement of the chief minister's office. After the arrest of Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair, NIA submitted in the court that CMO has links to the case. The ED and the customs maintained that stand.

Later, when the ED and the customs arrested former principal secretary M Sivasankar for aiding the accused persons, the NIA went silent on his role. Even the chargesheet filed in the NIA court in Kochi did not mention the participation of Sivasankar or anyone from the CMO. But a complaint (similar to the chargesheet) filed by the ED claims Sivasankar was part of the conspiracy.  Former Higher Education Minister KT Jaleel and former Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan, who were questioned by multiple central agencies, were not implicated in the case.

30/06/21 Toby Antony/New Indian Express

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