Three months after the controversial gold smuggling case in Kerala, which is being probed by four central investigative agencies, the political controversy around the case still continues.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA), The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Customs and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) are all probing the gold smuggling case. It all began with the seizure of 30 kg of gold, which arrived from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), by Customs officials at the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport on July 5. It was addressed to the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram and the baggage came through a diplomatic cargo.
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 statements that the gold smuggling case has ‘terror links’.
In its latest salvo of attacks, the BJP on Friday demanded the resignation of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan over the case. The party alleged that those accused in the case are "hand in glove" with the people in power.
"The moral authority of the chief minister is lost. The BJP has been demanding, the people of Kerala have been demanding that the chief minister should resign owning moral responsibility of the whole incident," Union minister and Kerala BJP leader V Muraleedharan told reporters.
CM Vijayan, however, has been open to all investigations from the initial stage. In fact, the chief minister had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for an “effective and coordinated” investigation by “all Central agencies concerned.”
Terming the crime as “extremely serious” and one with “implications” for the nation, Vijayan said the attempt to smuggle gold (concealed in diplomatic baggage addressed to the UAE consulate in Kerala) had “more than one angle warranting a thorough investigation.” He further said that the “scope of the probe should cover all aspects from the source to the end utilisation. Every link should be unravelled. The State government would provide all necessary assistance.”
However, soon after the gold was seized, V Muraleedharan had stressed that the gold was not smuggled through diplomatic channel and he repeated it in the initial stage. Later, it was confirmed that the gold was smuggled through diplomatic baggage, and the Union Finance Ministry itself informed the Parliament about the same.
Following this, the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) staged protests across Kerala, demanding Union Minister V Muraleedharan’s resignation. The DYFI alleged the Union Minister of State for External Affairs was trying to derail the probe into the case. The protests across the state were held in front of Central government offices.
"In the recent gold smuggling case, V Muraleedharan, the BJP and the BJP-aligned media were trying to establish that the baggage in which the smuggled gold was found was not a diplomatic one," national president of DYFI, Mohammed Riyas said back then.
"When the probe team investigates the role of BJP, they are trying to derail it by raising baseless allegations," Riyas said.
The ruling CPI(M) had earlier lashed out at Muraleedharan for his stand in the gold smuggling through diplomatic channels and said he should be questioned by the probe agencies and sought his resignation.
"Muraleedharan does not have the right to remain in the post of the Union minister after the Finance Ministry had in July itself informed the External Affairs ministry that the gold was smuggled in diplomatic baggage. If he refuses to resign, the Prime Minister should oust him," CPI(M) state secretariat had said in a statement earlier.
So far in the case, PS Sarith, Swapna Suresh, Sandeep Nair, and Fazil Fareed along with others, have been named in connection with the case. The investigative agencies are also probing a connection between this team and M Sivasankaran, former principal secretary of Kerala CM. Though the investigative agencies have been questioning Sivasankaran to find out his alleged role in the case, they have not found evidence so far.
The opposition parties in the state, however, have been attacking the Left Front government in the state using Sivasankaran.
The CPI(M) on September 15 pointed out that the key accused in the case, Swapna Suresh, had given statement saying that she was asked by the coordinating editor of BJP-backed Malayalam news channel, Janam TV’s Anil Nambiar to inform customs that it was not diplomatic baggage. According to reports, the advice was given much before the gold smuggling case came under spotlight in the media. Following the questioning of the coordinating editor, there have been transfer of officials in the department, which has raised doubts, according to the CPI(M).
Further, on October 15, the NIA special court in Kerala granted bail to 10 accused in the in gold smuggling case saying that it has found no evidence on the terror link of the accused. The court said that “there is no material whatsoever in the case diary” that suggests the petitioners had intentions “to damage the economic security of India”.
The court also said the investigative agency “is not able to trace out any material” to substantiate the terror allegation in the case even after probing for more than three months. “It is beyond any dispute that a mere act of smuggling gold would not attract the offence of terrorist act,” the court said.
The court, however, accepted the NIA’s argument for investigating the ‘terror’ angle in the case. “There should be an extensive probe into the aspect of terrorist financing, under the cover of gold smuggling,” the court said.
The aggressive pressure mounted on the state government through the central agencies invited criticism from many corners. Recently, the CPI(M)’s Kerala state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnansaid that his party “will resist any move by BJP to intervene in Kerala politics using central agencies.”