Kerala Gold Smuggling Case: NIA, Customs Seek Details On Diplomatic Baggage From State Protocol Officer

by M R Subramani - Aug 13, 2020 07:55 AM
Kerala Gold Smuggling Case: NIA, Customs Seek Details On Diplomatic Baggage From State Protocol OfficerKerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and main accused Swapna Suresh.
Snapshot
  • The summoning of the documents detailing diplomatic baggage assumes significance as it could help in finding out if Kerala Higher Education Minister K T Jaleel has violated protocol.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Customs Department have summoned the Kerala protocol officer in connection with the high-profile gold smuggling case. They have sought all documents on diplomatic baggage that came from the United Arab Emirates in the last two years.

In his summons handed over to the state secretariat, NIA Assistant Commissioner N S Dev asked protocol officer B Sunil Kumar to submit the documents by 20 August.

On its part, the Customs Department told the protocol officer that the documents were crucial for the gold smuggling probe, and any denial of them would attract provisions of the Indian Penal Code.

In particular, the NIA and Customs Department have sought a copy of the manual for diplomatic baggage and copy of exemption certificates (which exempt payment of customs duty for importing certain items) issued to the UAE Consulate General in Thiruvananthapuram in the last two years.

The summoning of the documents assumes significance as it could help in finding out if Kerala Higher Education Minister K T Jaleel has violated protocol.

Jaleel, one of the two ministers whose role has reportedly come under scrutiny in the smuggling case, had claimed that he had received kits containing Quran from the UAE for distribution in the state.

Two institutions were given the kits for distribution at mosques. Vehicles belonging to the Centre for Advanced Printing and Training, whose jurisdiction is under Jaleel, transported the kits.

The minister made the claim after his phone call records showed that he was in regular contact with Swapna Suresh, one of the prime accused in the gold smuggling case, during specific periods.

He said that he was also in touch with Swapna in connection with a sponsorship provided by the UAE Consulate for the kits to the tune of Rs 5 lakh.

There are a couple of issues with this. One, a UAE diplomat told local media that it does not distribute religious texts through its consulates. This has forced the NIA and Customs Department to ensure that they rule out any irregularity or foul play.

Two, no exemption is given for importing religious texts even if they are meant for free distribution. Prior permission has to be sought to import these text for free distribution.

Three, the code of conduct for ministers bars them from receiving any gift valued at over Rs 5,000. Also, it is mandatory that such gifts should be routed only through the Ministry of External Affairs and cannot be handed over to any minister directly.

Four, the Customs Department’s suspicion has been aroused with the Quran consignment coming in 30 bags weighing 4,476 kg. Both agencies are trying to ensure that they leave no opportunity for any one linked to the case go scot-free.

The Kerala gold smuggling case came to light after Customs Department officials, on a tip-off, seized 30 kg of gold in diplomatic baggage meant for the UAE Consulate at the Thiruvananthapuram airport on 5 July.

As the smuggling seemed to have various repercussions, including terrorist links and threat to the country’s security, the NIA was asked to take over the investigation.

Nearly 12 people have been arrested in the case, which has also dragged Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s office. Calls went from his office to Customs Department officials to go easy on Swapna.

Principal and IT Secretary M Sivasankar was reported to have made the call and he has been suspended for his involvement.

However, developments in the case each passing day has left the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government and the Communist Party of India-Marxist red-faced as more allegations against them are surfacing.

Swapna told the investigating officials that she had received Rs 1 crore as commission for getting funds for Vijayan’s pet “Life Mission” project that provides houses for the homeless and landless.

In the latest embarrassment for the LDF government, a builder told the NIA that the state approved the construction of a building complex at Wadakkancherry in violation of rules and regulations. Unitech owner Santosh Eappen told investigators that Swapna reportedly got Rs 1 crore from his firm for securing the Wadakkancherry contract.

M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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