With Kerala CMO's connections with the gold smuggling being exposed, state IT secretary M Sivasankar was removed from the post of principal secretary to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The knee jerk reaction on the part of the Left Government came amidst media reports that Sivasankar has close ties with gold smuggling accused Swapna Suresh.
Swapna, a former executive secretary at the UAE consulate, is a key suspect in the attempt to smuggle 30kg gold through Thiruvananthapuram airport. Customs officials on Sunday seized over 30 kg of gold that smuggled into Kerala in "diplomatic baggage". The consignment worth Rs 15 crore, addressed UAE consular general, was sent by air cargo at the international airport in Thiruvananthapuram. The customs officials revealed that Swapna is on the run while Sarith Kumar, a former consulate PRO, was arrested.
She was employed in Space Park that comes under the IT department. Chief Minister Vijayan handles the IT portfolio. M Sivasankar reportedly appointed her as the liaison officer of the park even when she was facing a Crime Branch probe in a fake complaint case has come into question. The state government has now removed Swapna from her Space Park post on Monday saying her job was on a contract basis.
Swapna with CM Vijayan and Speaker Sreeramakrishnan
In a scathing attack on the Chief Minister, the Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said Vijayan’s office is functioning as the epicentre of scams. BJP state president K Surendran said the CMO and the IT secretary exerted pressure on customs to hush up Swapna’s role.
The opposition leaders said the removal of Sivsankar as principal secretary to CM is just an eyewash. Opposition Leader Chennithala said Pinarayi was forced to oust Sivasankar from office after he realised that probe might lead to him
"The Chief Minister must reveal to the public the relationship between his principal secretary Sivasankaran and the woman, Swapna Suresh, involved in the gold smuggling case," Surendran said, adding: "How Swapna Suresh who was dismissed from the UAE consulate got a job in the IT department of the government?". The BJP state president also said that many CPM leaders have close ties with Swapna.
Meanwhile, neighbours of Swapna Suresh alleged that Principal Secretary to CMO Sivasankaran was a regular visitor at her flat. "Swapna is living in this flat for the past five years and Sivasankaran was a regular visitor to this flat. We had to object to his late-night visits as it involved booze parties and created problems to the residents," the secretary of the residential association of the apartment complex where Swapna Suresh was staying, Balakrishnan Nair told NIE.
Kerala No 1 in Gold Smuggling
With more than 550 kg of gold had been seized at various places in the state, Kerala set a national record in gold smuggling last year. The gold smuggling has been valuable funding to Islamic terror groups and political parties in the state for decades.“Kerala tops in the country in terms of gold seizure. During the last financial year, 550 kg gold was seized from four airports of the state. At least half of this quantity is from Kozhikode international airport. True, we are hit badly due to Covid-19 but we will not lower our guard come what may,” says Sumit Kumar, Customs Commissioner in-charge of Kerala and Lakshadweep region.
Smuggling on the rise during Covid-19
Amid Covid-19 pandemic, smuggling rackets are luring desperate NRIs into gold smuggling. Most of these gold smuggling rackets have direct or indirect links to radical Islamic outfits.
According to reports, since June, more than 5.9 kg of gold has been seized from nine people at Kozhikode airport, one of the largest gold smuggling hubs in Kerala. Customs officers say the racketeers must have smuggled more than the seized gold to ensure profit. But the Customs are bent on preventing smuggling via the airport.
“Some people think the Covid-19 situation would save them from Customs checks. But neither the crisis situation nor PPE kits will save them. We will screen all passengers and ask them to remove and dispose of PPE kits before Customs checks. But we won’t be able to check Covid-19 patients. After antibody testing, patients will be taken to hospitals directly,” the New Indian Express quoted an officer as saying.