As National Investigation Agency (NIA) intensifies probe into possible terror funding angle in the Kerala gold smuggling scam, Rashed Khamis Ali Musaiqri Alshemeli, attache of the United Arab Emirates Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram has reportedly left India for the UAE.
The on-going investigations by Customs and NIA have already divulged the role of Rashid Al Ashmiya in the case as the key accused in the case Swapna and Sarith gave testimonies against him before the investigation agencies. The call data records confirmed that the admin attaché of the UAE Consulate, Rashid Khamis had been in touch with Swapna Suresh. Attache’s number was also on the call list of the key accused Swapna.
Smuggling Syndicate: CMO-CPM connections
As per call data records, Sivasankar, former Principal secretary to the Chief Minister, found in regular touch with the key accused Sarith and Swapna. Based on the evidence, Sivashankar was interrogated by Customs officials.
Chief Minister Vijayan had been defending his close confidante Sivasankar until Thursday, when he was suspended from the service. Unlike the false claims of Chief Minister and other CPM leaders, now it has been revealed in the investigation conducted by the Chief Secretary that Swapna was appointed in a top post at the Space Park, which comes under the state IT dept, by CM’s principal secretary Sivsankar. Sivsankar has been considered to be the blue-eyed boy of CM Vijayan ever since the LDF govt came to power. Sivsankar, as IT secretary came to the rescue of CM Vijayan when the Sprinklr data scam rocked the LDF Government earlier this year.
Meanwhile, the call data records between former SIMI leader and present CPM minister KT Jaleel and the accused Swapna Suresh showed that as many as 16 calls were made between them. While Jaleel called Swapna eight times, she called him once.
Speaking to media, Jaleel claimed that he had spoken to Swapna only about distribution of ‘Ramzan food kits’ from the UAE consulate. “The consulate used to distribute food kits during Ramzan. This year, it didn’t happen due to the lockdown. So, the consul-general messaged me on May 27 expressing his wish to distribute the food kits and I agreed to make arrangements through Consumerfed. The consul-general messaged me that Swapna would contact me,” he said.
According to the data, the phone calls were made two months ago. Contrary to the justification of Jaleel, Swapna was no longer working with the consulate during Ramzan period as she left the job in 2019 itself.
Several top CPM leaders, including the Chief Minister Vijayan, Speaker of state assembly P Sreeramakrishnan and others, are now facing heat over their alleged involvement in the controversial gold smuggling case. The opposition served a notice to the Kerala Assembly secretary seeking to remove Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan from the post for his links with Swapna. The Speaker had also inaugurated a shop belonging to one of the accused Sandeep.
India had deported a UAE attaché for smuggling gold in 2013
In much the same manner, a senior diplomat working in UAE Embassy, New Delhi was caught for smuggling about 37 kg of gold jewellery at the Delhi international airport in March 2013. A team of Directorate General of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) officials had intercepted Mana Suleh Sultan Alsuwadi, the commercial attaché of UAE Embassy and seized 37kg of gold when he arrived by a Singapore flight early morning of March 11, 2013.
According to the reports, the diplomat initially resisted the request from DRI officials citing "diplomatic immunity”. "The diplomat was carrying gold jewellery in a suitcase. He could not give satisfactory answer as to why he was carrying jewellery in such a high volume. He was allowed to leave the airport after necessary formalities," PTI had quoted a DRI official as saying. The 17 packets of gold jewellery were camouflaged in two brown bags, bearing the marking “to be hand-carried to New Delhi.”
In connection with the incident, DRI officials had detained a Delhi businessman, who travelled with the diplomat in the same flight. He had bought the gold in Dubai and then took it to Singapore, where invoices were issued to confuse investigators.
Following the incident, the DRI has taken up the matter with Ministry of External Affairs for further necessary action. As the diplomat was to be dealt as per Vienna convention, he was not charged or interrogated by the personnel.
The attache was deported to UAE on March 12, 2013, a day after the incident. As per the Vienna convention, a diplomat enjoys immunity from criminal, civil and administrative jurisdictions of the receiving State. As per Article 29 of the convention, diplomats must not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. They are immune from civil or criminal prosecution, though the sending country may waive this right.
Gold meant for anti-CAA protests
Taking into account the striking similarities between the two incidents, an ex-intelligence official told Organiser that the involvement of the UAE embassy in the incident should be viewed seriously by the investigation agencies and the country’s political leadership.
“Since the UAE Consul General in-charge is involved in the case, it has been proved beyond doubt that the gold was not meant for any business purpose. Some UAE Islamist leaders and business persons under the spell of ISI had jumped on the bandwagon of the protests against CAA in India. There were media reports that several NRIs who were working in India were fired from jobs, citing their allegiance to the ruling BJP. The vested-interests of the state and non-state actors in West Asia were clearly evident from the reactions from various corners during the anti-CAA propaganda,” he said.
According to the ex-intelligence official, who is a known national security expert, the smuggled gold could be used for financing the anti-CAA protests and other terrorist activities across the country. “These days, the stringent laws and strict regulations made hawala transactions nearly impossible and it has been replaced by the smuggled gold as a new means of terror funding,” he added.
The role of Kerala-based Islamist outfits in the recent anti-Hindu riots in Delhi, which was orchestrated as part of the anti-CAA protests, was exposed in the investigations conducted by the Delhi police. The police have already established its links with Islamist preacher Zakir Naik, Saudi Arabia and Islamist terrorist outfits like PFI. The Accused Ishrat Jahan and Khalid Saifi got funds from unaccounted channels and PFI respectively as well as from abroad.
Permitting NIA probe in the case, MHA Spokesperson had stated that the organised smuggling operation may have 'serious implications' for national security. The NIA has also maintained in the court that the purpose of the smuggling was to fund terrorism. At the court, the NIA also sought a warrant to arrest the third-accused in the case Faizal Fareed who was suspected to be in UAE. Faizal Freed is believed to have connections with Islamist outfits-based in Kerala that led the anti-CAA protests. Adding support to the assumptions, Malappuram native K T Rameez held by Customs was found to be held for gold smuggling to Kerala. He was suspected to be the mastermind of gold smuggling using diplomatic channels.
NIA strongly had argued that no bail should be permitted for Swapna Suresh and other accused since they have been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The counsel informed that they have strong evidence against Swapna Suresh, Sandeep Nair and Sarith that they were involved in the gold smuggling racket and they should be interrogated by the agency to find out the emerging links
UAE and terror funding
A leaked memo from the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in December 2009 described UAE as a growing global financial centre, but has weak regulatory mechanism which makes it vulnerable to abuse by terrorist financiers and facilitation networks. A whistle-blowing information group, Global Leaks, had been quoted by international media, as saying that some Gulf countries were used to receive funds from banks in Pakistan and UAE owned by the UAE royal family to allegedly finance terror strikes in the US in 2001 and Mumbai in 2008.
These media outlets say they have received documented information from this group that says that banks like the Dubai Islamic Bank in UAE, and the Bank Al Falah and United Bank Ltd. in Pakistan owned by the Abu Dhabi Royal family reportedly cleared financial transactions of terrorist outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), both of which have been named by India as being squarely involved in the 26/11 attacks that claimed 166 lives and maimed over 300 others. In 2008, the United Nations Committee conducted an investigation of the terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Tayibba (LeT) which found them to be associated with the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. The investigation found that UAE based banks cleared financial transactions from UAE based investors which was then used to fund the terrorist organization.
The Haqqani network, the militant partners of the Afghan Taliban, has received significant funding from UAE-based businesses. In January 2009, the US intelligence sources stated that two of Taliban's senior fundraisers travelled regularly to the UAE where the Haqqani networks and Taliban laundered money via local front companies. The United Arab Emirates is the only Arab country to serve and contribute forces alongside American Green Beret Special Forces to the mission in Afghanistan. On July 31, 2017, a New York Times' correspondent published an article reportedly based on the information gathered from the leaked emails of the UAE Ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, stating that in June 2013, both Qatar and the United Arab Emirates competed with each to host a Taliban embassy