Customs on Monday arrested a man, who claimed himself to be a former employee of foreign country's consulate in Kerala, in connection with the seizure of gold worth over Rs 15 crore from a "diplomatic baggage" at an airport in the state.
This seizure of over 30 kg gold at the International airport in Thiruvananthapuram has become a political issue in Kerala.
Sarith Kumar, who claimed to be working with the UAE consulate as a PRO, was taken into custody by the Eranakulam customs unit in connection with the diplomatic cargo by air cargo at the international airport in Thiruvananthapuram under the name of a person who enjoys diplomatic immunity.
On Monday, Customs personnel said they were looking for a woman named Swapna Suresh, also claiming herself to be a former employee of the consulate in Thiruvananthapuram, in connection with the case.
Following allegations of her involvement in the high-profile case, the state IT department on Monday stated that it has terminated the service of Suresh who was working as an operational manager with the Kerala State IT Infrastructure Ltd, one of the prestigious projects of the state.
On Monday, Customs personnel said they were looking for a woman, also claiming herself to be a former employee of the consulate in Thiruvananthapuram, in connection with the case.
Following the reports of the gold seizure, the state IT department on Monday stated that it has terminated the service of Swapna Suresh who was working as an operational manager with the Kerala State IT Infrastructure Ltd, one of the prestigious projects of the state.
"She was into a six-month contract and had ended already. However, she was continuing due to the COVID-19 and lockdown," said the IT department. Earlier, Suresh had worked as executive secretary at the Consulate of United Arab Emirates at Thiruvananthapuram.
BJP state president K Surendran alleged that the gold smuggling racket has links with the office of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who holds the portfolio.
"The first call, as the smugglers were taken into custody by the customs, was from the chief minister's office. Suresh has close contacts with S Shivsanakr, the Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, who is also the IT Secretary," he said.
“Connect the dots and it leads you to the @vijayanpinarayi's office. Swapna Suresh has powerful patrons. A crime of this nature cannot be executed without the support of higher ups,” he said in a tweet.
The BJP leader also asked how a person like Sudesh who was kicked out of the UAE Consulate could join the chief minister's office at a key post. "The state special branch had informed CM about her background as she was questioned by the crime branch for forging documents in a case against an Air India official. However, he rejected all these," he said.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala has demanded a CBI enquiry on this issue and alleged that chief minister’s office has become the source of all the corruption and nepotism in Kerala. He later wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a CBI probe.
Vijayan said he was unaware of the factors behind the appointment of the woman and would look into the matter.
"This was a major haul that happened in the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport. I would like to congratulate the Customs team that monitored the smuggling activity and seized the gold. It seems like they have details of those involved in the matter and the Customs will act soon," Vijayan said.
Dismissing the BJP chief's charge that the CMO was involved in the matter, Vijayan said his office had never entertained anyone involved in any sort of corruption and the people of the state know that.
He also said that those involved would not be able to escape and would be brought to justice. "Some people are trying to drag Chief Minister and his office into any allegation. The latest allegations by BJP state President are on similar lines. He should understand that customs is probing this case. No one will be shielded in that regard. People here understand what Chief Minister's office stands for."
"I don't know the details of the appointment of this person. Will have to look into it. However, no decision has been made in this regard with my knowledge,” Chief Minister added.
Meanwhile, the UAE Embassy in India has stated it utterly condemns the attempted misuse of diplomatic channels by an individual engaged in smuggling activity.
"The Embassy firmly rejects such acts and unequivocally affirms that the mission and its diplomatic staff had no role in this matter," it stated.