Kerala’s customs department on Friday filed an indictment in the gold smuggling case, claiming that 169kg of the precious metal had been smuggled into the country on several occasions with the connivance of some consulate officials of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the state capital. , said on condition of anonymity a senior customs official familiar with the development of the situation.
The official said the customs department named 29 people in the indictment, including the former principal secretary to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Mr. Sivasankaran, who is named as the 29th defendant in the case. According to the indictment, Sivasankaran was aware of the smuggling activities of other defendants and did not report them.
The 3,000-page indictment – presented to the Special Economic Crimes Tribunal in Ernakulam – stated that most of the smuggled gold was converted into ornaments and difficult to trace. He also named former UAE consulate employee PS Sarith as the first defendant and accused KT Rameez of being the mastermind of the smuggling racket, the official said.
The customs officer quoted above said on condition of anonymity that the accused would regularly smuggle yellow metal by abusing the diplomatic immunity of the consulate and diverting it to the gold market. They would share the proceeds and the smuggled gold would then be sent to jewelers in Hyderabad, Mumbai and Kozhikode, the official added.
The sensational gold smuggling case came to light in July 2020 after the seizure of 30 kg of gold hidden in bathroom fixtures in one of the consignments camouflaged as diplomatic baggage from the UAE Consulate (UAE ) in the state capital. The case was then turned over to the National Investigation Agency and they arrested Swapna Suresh and her accomplice Sandeep Nair from their hiding place in Bangalore.
Now, a multi-agency team led by the NIA is investigating the case and 34 people have been arrested so far. One of the main alleged backers of the smuggling racket, Rabins Hameed, has been extradited from the United Arab Emirates and another key suspect, Faizal Fareed, remains at large.
The customs service did not mention the angle of terror in its indictment, however.
The case caused enough embarrassment for the Left Front government after CM Principal Secretary Mr. Sivasankar, a senior IAS officer, was arrested by the Execution Directorate. He was later suspended and he obtained a High Court bond later.
Although four central agencies (NIA, ED, DRI and income tax) are investigating the case, other than the initial arrests, the investigation has not made much headway, central agency officials admit. The main beneficiaries and distributors are still at large, and some politicians whose names emerged during the investigation also remain intact.
The Union and state governments have looked into the case on several occasions and the latter have even set up a judicial commission against the Directorate of Enforcement (ED), a first of its kind, alleging an attempt to involve many senior executives, including CM Pinarayi Vijayan, in the case. But later, the HC had crushed the judicial commission.
During the investigation, former minister KT Jaleel’s phone number featured prominently in the accused Swapna Suresh’s call list. Subsequently, the minister admitted that he called Suresh as a consular employee as part of the Ramzan kits offered by the UAE consulate in 2020 the MEA. Customs also found that a large shipment, weighing over 4,000 kg in 31 bags, landed in the state on March 4, 2020 and was taken to Malappuram. Jaleel said he took these packages containing religious books to his constituency. He was questioned by the customs service and ED. Although customs officials said the minister violated the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), the department has yet to reserve it.