As a political storm exploded in Kerala over allegations raised against his office in the gold smuggling case, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Tuesday said it was up to the Centre to decide which agency should probe the matter as the left government removed an IAS officer from key posts.
With the Congress and BJP stepping up their attack, the Left government removed M Sivasankar, who was the secretary to the Chief Minister and the IT Principal secretary, after the opposition targeted him for the appointment of a woman official of the IT department, alleged to be the 'kingpin' and who was being investigated by the Crime Branch in another case. She was being investigated by the Crime Branch in another case and since sacked from her present post. Vijayan also said the "controversial woman" was not associated with the Chief Minister's office.
The woman, who was appointed as a marketing official in the IT department on contract basis, was sacked two days ago as media reports emerged that she had been recruited when a crime branch probe was on. With the woman,a former employee of a foreign country's consulate in Kerala, on the run, the Customs on Tuesday said it was planning to issue a lookout notice for her. Highly placed sources in the Customs said the lookout notice has to be issued for the woman, who is allegedly involved in the gold smuggling, to ensure that she would not flee the country.
The central agency's move came a day after it arrested a man, who claimed himself to be a former employee of a foreign country's consulate in Kerala, in connection with the seizure of gold worth over Rs 15 crore from a "diplomatic baggage" at Thiruvananthapuram international airport on Sunday.
Leader of Opposition in the Kerala Assembly, Ramesh Chennithala, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a CBI probe into the matter, saying the seized gold worth "Rs 30 crore illegally brought to our country" from a consignment was addressed to the "UAE consulate."
The UAE Embassy in Delhi in a tweet said the UAE authorities have launched an investigation to find out who sent the cargo containing gold to the address of the UAE consulate. "The authorities have stressed that the culprits who not only committed a major crime but also sought to tarnish the reputation of the UAE mission in India will not be spared. We remain committed to cooperating with Indian authorities in getting to the root of the crime," the embassy stated.
BJP state unit chief K Surendran alleged that the woman was known to the Chief minister since September 2017 when she played a major role in organising some five-day programmes in connection with the visit of a Sharjah sheik.
As his office came under attack,the chief minister said as far as the state government is concerned, it has no problem with any inquiry and it was for the Centre to decide the probe agency, Vijayan told reporters responding to a query on the opposition demand for a CBI probe into the matter.
Dismissing the allegations raised by the Congress and BJP that a top official in the chief minister''s office had tried to intervene in the case, Vijayan said the state government will not protect those who are behind such crimes and pledged full support to the Customs department, which is probing the case.
The Opposition has been up in arms against the ruling left in the state over the recent seizure of over 30 kg of gold from the International Airport here which was attempted to be smuggled into the state through diplomatic baggage.
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking CBI probe, Ramesh Chennithala said a former employee of the consulate was arrested in connection with the racket and a woman is allegedly the "kingpin of the racket."
On the opposition allegations that there was an "influence of the smuggling cartel"at the office of Chief Minister of Kerala, Vijayan said the smuggling attempt was foiled by the customs and how is the state government responsible for it? "The controversial woman is not associated with the Chief Minister''s Office.
She was a marketing official appointed through a placement agency on contract-basis for one of the projects in the IT department," Vijayan said.
Just because Sivasankar was removed, it does not mean that any legal procedure was initiated against him. But because his name figured in such a controversy, Vijayan said.
He also rubbished the allegation that his office tried to interfere in the matter and pointed out that the Customs officer himself has made it clear that nobody tried to influence the probe.
"The customs department comes under the central government so is the Airport.
How is the state government responsible for all those happening inside there? Vijayan also wondered how all these matters were directed towards the Chief Minister's Office and said the package was a diplomatic baggage addressed to the UAE consulate and not for any state government agency.
"We will not protect anyone involved in such crimes. The woman took part in many programmes of the UAE consulate representing that country.
How's the state government responsible for such a person? The Opposition Leader and the BJP Chief are raising allegations without verifying the facts," Vijayan said.
Vijayan also clarified that currently the Customs Department, a central agency, was probing the matter. Meanwhile, demanding the Chief Minister's resignation, activists of opposition parties took out protest marches in various places. Two yuva morcha activists who tried to gatecrash to Vijayan's official residence, Cliff House here, were stopped by police.
Mir Mohammed Ali, Executive Director of Suchitwa Mission will hold the full additional charge of the post of Secretary to Chief Minister with immediate effect, while Mohammed Y Safirulla has been appointed as the additional secretary of the IT Department.