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Oppn Alleges Conspiracy to Sabotage Evidence in Gold Smuggling Probe after Fire at Kerala Secretariat

The fire in the North Block of Kerala Secretariat. (News18)

The fire in the North Block of Kerala Secretariat. (News18)

UDF leader Ramesh Chennithala demanded a comprehensive probe into the blaze, while state BJP president K Surendran said it was a sabotage to destroy evidence.

A fire broke out on Tuesday evening in the protocol department in the North block of the Kerala Secretariat, which houses important offices, in state capital Thiruvananthapuram, but was brought under control, said fire and rescue department sources.

The sources said the fire broke out at section II of the protocol section under the General Administration Department around 4.45pm and was brought under control soon after. According to primary reports, a few files, documents and computers are reported to have been burned in the blaze.

The incident happened a day after the assistant protocol officer MS Harikrishnan was summoned by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in connection with the gold smuggling case at the Thiruvananthapuram international airport.

Soon after, the opposition said the fire was a conspiracy to destroy evidence in the case. Leader of Opposition in the Kerala Assembly Ramesh Chennithala demanded a comprehensive probe, while state BJP president K Surendran said it was a sabotage to do away with evidence.

"Very important files regarding the gold smuggling case have been completely destroyed. No backup file is available. This is a suspicious case. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is responsible for this," Chennithala said, adding he will meet the governor over the matter.

"The agencies should investigate this because there are several files in the protocol section in connection with the gold smuggling case. It is an attempt to save the state Protocol Officer Shine Haq," the BJP leader said.

BJP and Congress leaders held a protest outside the Kerala Secretariat alleging the fire was a conspiracy to destroy evidence in connection with the smuggling case. Surendran, who reached the spot with other party leaders, was taken into police custody and later released. Mediapersons who reached the spot were evicted immediately, while some alleged they were manhandled by security officers.

After protests, Chennithala and MLA VS Sivakumar were allowed inside the secretariat.

"Files containing details about the gold smuggling case, including those sought by the NIA and other probe agencies in connection with Minister KT Jaleel were purposefully burnt," news agency ANI quoted Surendran as saying. "BJP leaders, including me, were arrested when we visited the place to bring out the truth."

Later on Tuesday, an expert committee was set up to look into the incident of fire. The committee, which will be headed by Disaster Management Commissioner Koushik, will submit its report in a week. The state crime branch will also initiate a probe, which will be led by ADGP Manoj Abraham.

P Honey, Additional Secretary of the Housekeeping Cell at the Secretariat, said a short circuit from a computer is suspected to have triggered the blaze. "No important files have been destroyed. They are all safe," he said.

There were only two people in the office as the remaining staff had gone on quarantine, he said, adding they were not injured.

The protocol section operates on the second floor of the building of the secretariat.

The NIA had asked the state protocol officer to furnish details of diplomatic consignments that arrived at the Thiruvananthapuram international airport in the last four years as part of the probe into the gold smuggling case. Harikrishnan had appeared before the NIA officials on Monday. It was his second visit to the NIA office in Kochi in connection with the case.

(With inputs from N Srinath in Kochi)