The Thiruvananthapuram gold smuggling case and its investigations has emerged as political battle between the left government and the opposition with the situation getting tensed as M Sivasankar, former principal secretary to the Chief Minister, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Wednesday in connection with the case.
The agency on Thursday sought 14 day custody of Sivasankar when he was produced before the Special PMLA court. Though the ED said Sivasankar remained evasive and non-cooperative during the investigation processes, the suspended IAS officer reportedly said that the ED is compelling him to give statements, which they want to link the investigation with the state government. Sivasankar was suspended in July by the government pending an inquiry into alleged violations of service rules.
Before his arrest, Sivasankar was questioned several times by the three central probe agencies—National Investigation Agency (NIA), The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Customs and the ED— over allegations of his close links with the accused in the gold smuggling case. The case involves the smuggling of at least 30 kg of gold allegedly through diplomatic channels. On July 5, gold worth Rs 14.82 crore was seized by Customs officials at the Thiruvananthapuram international airport from diplomatic baggage meant to be delivered to the UAE consulate.
The ED alleged that Sivasankar had intervened to clear the diplomatic baggage containing smuggled gold without examination by the Customs at the airport.
In its arrest order, the ED has claimed that during his statement given to the agency on October 15, Sivasankar admitted to have spoken to a senior Customs officer and allegedly made the request as per the wishes of Swapna Suresh, prime accused in the case.
"This clearly shows your active involvement in the offences committed by Swapna Suresh," the ED said in the order.
"WhatsApp chats between Sivasankar and Swapna revealed that she has requested Sivasankar to intervene with the Terminal Manager/Airport Authority/Customs Authority for some work at the airport/ clearance of diplomatic baggage without examination by the Customs," it said. But the ED added that analysis of WhatsApp chats is also indicative that Sivasankar, in his official capacity, might have called for the clearance of other diplomatic cargos as well including the ones containing smuggled gold because nobody could tell what was inside such diplomatic bags once cleared un-examined.
"It has been found that 21 consignments were sent between 2019 and 2020 and Sivasankar's involvement has helped in the commission of the offence,” the ED said.
Political Aspect of Gold Smuggling Case
The case has been in limelight for the past few months in Kerala. Opposition parties, both the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had raised many allegations against the government and the ruling party on the grounds of the ongoing investigations. Even though none of the allegations yet have substantial evidences, the political game over the issue is still on.
Since the initial days, both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala had been accusing the chief minister’s office of having a connection with the smuggling. Also, there were allegations that the gold smuggling case has ‘terror links’. The investigation of NIA is trying to find out whether the smuggling of gold through diplomatic baggage has alleged terrorist links behind it while the ED is looking at foreign exchange and probing the money trail in the case.
The statement from Sivasankar about being pressurised to give statement has also come when the political commentators and various political parties in Kerala have been pointing out that the Centre is misusing the investigative agencies to target the Left Front government in the state ahead of local body polls.
Although the arrest of M Sivasankar is on personal charges, political observers say it seems that the central agencies are politicising the case in the crucial stage before the local body elections. The NIA is yet to find any evidence to link terrorism to the gold smuggling case. So far, the customs has not alleged any involvement of M Shivashankar in the gold smuggling.
Moreover, 13 of the accused who were arrested in the NIA case have already been granted bail. The UAPA has not been slapped on anyone. Experts hint that the recent developments may be linked to a nexus between the Congress and BJP for political gains.
The current allegation is that Shivashankar called a customs official months before the gold smuggling incident. The controversial locker deal had also taken place more than a year back.
Communist Party of India (CPI) state secretary Kanam Rajendran on Friday said the central government is misusing the investigative agencies for political gain. The actions of central agencies show their misconduct in Kerala in recent days, he claimed.
Rajendran further said while the Congress in the state supports the misuse of central agencies for political gain, the AICC was strongly opposed to it.
He was referring to the fact that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi himself on October 22 termed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as a "weapon of political vendetta" under the Narendra Modi's regime.
“The PM's blue-eyed boy, Gujarat cadre officer, of Godra SIT fame, infiltrated as No. 2 into the CBI, has now been caught taking bribes," Gandhi tweeted. "Under this PM, the CBI is a weapon of political vendetta. An institution in terminal decline that's at war with itself."
"Every organ of State that could possibly be used to target political opposition has already been pressed into service — the Police, the Enforcement Directorate, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and even the Narcotics Bureau. These agencies now dance only to the tune of the Prime Minister and home minister’s office. The use of State power must always obey constitutional norms and respect established democratic conventions ", wrote Congress President Sonia Gandhi on October 26 in Hindustan Times.
Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, the state secretary of CPI(M), however, said the opposition is sad because of investigating agencies could not find any links to CM Pinarayi Vijayan's office. The aim of the UDF and the BJP is to maintain the smokescreen of allegations till the local body elections, he added.
(With Inputs from PTI)