When Kerala police arrested eight persons of a 12-member impostor gang last week for attempting to take hostage actor-cum-model Shamna Kasim, there was little indication of a storm ahead for the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in the State.
Vijay Sakhare, Kochi city police commissioner, told the media that the gang attempted to extort money from Shamna, popularly known as Poorna, and it was stopped in its tracks on time by his team of policemen.
Confirming the development on her Facebook page, the actor said her family decided to lodge a complaint with the police against the extortionist gang as it had been cheated with "fake names, fake addresses and fake identities with a marriage proposal".
“This eventually led to blackmail for which we decided to approach the police for legal action. We never knew and still don’t know what their intentions were ,” Shamna said in her post.
The gang had collected the actor’s family details from others in the film industry. It then came to light that there were a number of cases filed against the gang by various others.
Media reports said that the gang had extorted money from eight other models this year using similar methods.
Sakhare said the extortion gang took advantage of small actors and junior artistes who usually were ambitious to gain popularity or earn more. The members would gain these artistes' confidence before making ransom demands.
The gang would threaten these actors that it would shame them publicly by publishing their photos or clips or videos online that had content damaging their reputation.
It was during this investigation that actor Dharmarajan Bolgatty revealed that he was approached by a gold smuggling gang. He said the gang had approached him seeking the contact numbers of Shamna as well as leading actor Miya George.
Bolgatty told the media that the extortion gang had contacted him claiming to be gold smugglers.
Police initially gave the impression that it refused to believe the gold smuggling reference, but it began to pursue that angle seriously.
Investigations by police led to the gang members explaining details of how actors were used to smuggle gold and how a “deal woman" helped them.
What police stumbled upon while probing the gang was that there was a well-entrenched racked that smuggled gold into the country through actors, who were taken to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for stage shows.
The gang reportedly lured women, mainly actors, with the promise of a huge remuneration if they worked as carriers of gold.
Whenever the actors or others, who smuggled gold, faced problems, the “deal woman” would step in and bail them out. The gang told police that the “deal woman” was a diplomat and she had links with the “top people” in the LDF government.
Kochi police then shared this information with the Customs Department that led to the seizing of 30 kg of gold, worth Rs 13.5 crore, smuggled into the country as the baggage of a UAE diplomat.
Investigations by the Customs Department led them to Sarith, who had been expelled by the UAE Consulate as public relations officer, being behind the gold smuggling.
He confessed to be one of the kingpins of the smuggling operations, while spilling the beans on the involvement of Swapna Suresh and that she was the “deal woman”.
Swapna has now been made the main accused in the smuggling case by the Customs Department.
The gold smuggling case has rocked the LDF government, particularly the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), since calls had gone from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s office to let her go scot-free.
Swapna, as it turns out, faked her identity as a UAE Consulate staff when she was actually on a contract job with the Kerala Information Technology Department. She was liaison officer of the Space Park, owned by the State government, in Thiruvananthapuram.
The “deal woman”, who had earlier been executive secretary at the UAE Consulate before being expelled, had forged documents to get diplomatic immunity to run the gold smuggling racket.
Swapna, sacked from the Space Tech job now, tapped into the expertise she gained in handling such consignments while being employed at Air India Sats.
She forged documents to show that she was a diplomat because diplomatic baggage is usually not thoroughly scrutinised.
During investigations by the Customs Department, it has now emerged that Swapna and Sarith have conducted at least 15 such gold smuggling operations.
The gold smuggling case, which now threatens to derail the CPM government in Kerala, has also brought to light two facts.
One, before the onset of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, at least 25 kgs of gold were smuggled into the country through the Thiruvananthapuram airport.
Two, celebrities were rampantly used to smuggle in the yellow metal.
Gold smuggling has been on the rise since 2013 after the Centre raised the customs duty on its import to 10 per cent. The duty was further raised to 12.5 per cent last year.
For now, the LDF government has tried to gain a breather by removing senior IAS official M Sivasankar from functioning in the Chief Minister’s office for his alleged links with Swapna. The official has gone on a year’s leave following the controversy.
However, Opposition parties such as the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party are demanding a detailed investigation into the whole issue of gold smuggling, possibly by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
The last word has not been said yet on this gold smuggling case, with Swapna, brought up and educated in the UAE, on the run.
As regards the extortion gang, at least 20 women have now come forward and filed complaints with the police.
M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani
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