The Kerala gold smuggling case is getting curious every passing day with new revelations that, perhaps, point to the complicity of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), which heads the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the state.
Quite a few pertinent questions arise of these revelations.
The Kerala gold smuggling case came to light on 5 July after the Customs Department, following a tip-off, seized a United Arab Emirates (UAE) diplomatic baggage with 30 kg of gold.
The seizure led to the exposure of a deep conspiracy which the National Investigation Agency (NIA) suspects could have links with terrorists.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s office has also been caught in this tornado, with his special secretary, M Sivasankar, now suspended, reported to have made a call to the Customs to 'go easy' on one of the prime accused, Swapna Suresh.
Call records of Swapna Suresh and alleged confessions by another suspect, Sarith Nair, reveal that some top officials in the state government, including police, were involved in the smuggling operations.
So far, 12 persons, including Swapna and Sarith, have been arrested in this case, and revelations each day have left the people perplexed over the depth of the gold smuggling operations.
First and foremost is, what was the state police intelligence doing when so many activities had taken place under its nose.
Media reports in Kerala say that at least 20 hawala gangs were involved in the smuggling operations carried out for over a year.
Suspicions of a gold smuggling racket were raised following the death of a musician, Balabhaskar Prasad, in October 2018.
Last year, the suspicions gained strength after two persons close to the musician were arrested.
The smuggling issue was being looked into by the Department of Revenue Intelligence.
But the issue here is why was the state police a mute spectator to the developments?
Isn’t law and order a state subject?
Why did not Kerala police take this case seriously and enquire more seriously?
Though the arrest of an extortion gang reportedly led to the tip-off of the gold smuggling, Kerala police seemed to have been slack in their efforts to proceed further on the case.
The fact that it couldn't arrest Swapna for almost a week is another indictor.
Swapna was arrested within 24 hours of the NIA taking over the investigations.
On the other hand, the hawala gangs even used intermediaries to sell gold, mostly outside Kerala.
Reports also say that the smuggling operations were regularly carried out through diplomatic channels after dry runs were carried out.
Some of the hawala operations were reportedly crowd-funded.
Was the Intelligence Wing of the Kerala Police never aware of these?
This is something that should worry the whole nation.
Second, how did a government ruled by Communists, who always campaign for the public sector, allow contract employment in a project run by the government?
Swapna was appointed to Space Park, Thiruvananthapuram, as Business Development Manager on contract.
She was employed with Vision Technologies.
It was through this company that Swapna was appointed on a short-term basis to the Space Park by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, which was paid Rs 2.7 lakh a month by the State government.
In turn, Swapna got a salary of Rs 1.4 lakh, much higher than some of the top civilian servants.
How can a Communist government hire a person on contract at such a huge salary when it could have appointed someone else at a lower salary in a government department?
Kerala media has alleged that Vijayan has misled people that the Information Technology Department was not involved in Swapna’s appointment.
The onset of novel Coronavirus pandemic in the country, particularly Kerala, has brought to light how the LDF has selectively favoured private firms in issues such as securing patients data, making an app for liquor consumers, electric buses project and now the gold smuggling case.
The third issue that begs an answer from the state government is the appointment of S R Jayaghosh as the gunman of United Arab Emirates attache Rashed Khamis Ali Musaiqri Alshemeli.
The attache has since returned to the UAE, avoiding questioning by NIA.
Jayaghosh was reportedly appointed on the direct orders of Kerala Director General of Police Lokanath Behera without any recommendation, as mandated, from the state security committee.
The gunman had been on five years deputation to the Immigration Bureau and he was assigned as a liaison officer to welcome VVIPs.
When appointments have to be made to offices linked to foreign embassies or consulates, a recommendation from a security panel headed by the home secretary is needed.
This was not followed in Jayaghosh's case.
The Centre’s approval was also not sought for Jayaghosh’s appointment, though Kerala police argue the External Affairs Ministry’s protocols were adhered to in his case.
The involvement of the gunman, who is recovering after an alleged suicide attempt at a local hospital, is being investigated by the NIA in the smuggling case.
Also, the role of Sivasankar has come into question. Is there something more than what meets the eye given the fact that he climbed the civil service ladder higher than his colleagues despite being a conferred IAS official?
There are too many loose ends in the gold smuggling case that require a proper response from the LDF government, especially with regard Sivasankar, Swapna and Jayaghosh.
The gold smuggling case and Swapna’s high profile connections have landed the Vijayan government in a big spot of bother.
It is likely that this could have an impact on the elections to the state Assembly due in May next year.
The developments are more disconcerting given the fact that Behera had served in the NIA.
How did a police official, who is fully aware of terrorism funding and other such things, not be able to influence his Intelligence Wing to go a step further?
Was the police chief, too, under political pressure?
Doesn't that give credence to the allegations that Kerala police has been politicised?
Responses to these queries are required if the Vijayan government has to get rid of the allegations of its complicity in the gold smuggling case.
M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani
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