The National Investigation Agency (NIA) will now probe the Kerala gold scam case.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in a statement on Thursday cited national security as the reason for handing over the case to the central probe agency.
"The MHA permits the National Investigation Agency to investigate the Thiruvananthapuram Airport gold smuggling case, as the organised smuggling operation may have serious implications for national security," said the MHA spokesperson in a tweet.
The case pertains to Customs officials at the airport coming across 30 kg of gold, worth about Rs 15 core, in diplomatic baggage on July 4. The gold was found in baggage linked to the United Arab Emirates Consulate in the state. Key accused Swapna Suresh is absconding and the opposition has alleged that she is being protected by the Chief Minister's Office (CMO).
NIA officials, when contacted by News18, said they are yet to receive a copy of the order. Officials said that if national security is being cited, then the NIA FIR could be under relevant sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Smuggling is not a scheduled offence but the 2019 NIA Amendment Act empowered it to probe cases outside India.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had on Wednesday shot off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his "intervention for an effective investigation" into the seizure of the gold.
Kerala Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala had demanded a CBI probe into the case, which has embroiled the chief minister's office as well.
The Kerala government has welcomed the move by the central government.
"We welcome the NIA probe in the gold smuggling case. Any probe by central agencies is a welcome one. The probe should be unbiased and fair. The truth should come out," said state minister EP Jayarajan.
India on Thursday said it is keeping the UAE embassy informed about the case and that the mission was extending all cooperation to the customs authorities examining it. The embassy in Delhi earlier said that an investigation into the source of cargo has begun and that "those responsible had 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 Ministry of External Affairs had kept the Embassy of the UAE informed regarding the matter. The UAE Mission has extended all cooperation to the Customs authorities in examining the said consignment. The matter is under further investigation," said Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava at an online media briefing.
(With inputs from PTI)