An accused in the alleged smuggling of gold through diplomatic cargo meant for the UAE Consulate in Kerala has alleged that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan took a packet containing a bundle of currency to the UAE during one of his visits to the Emirates in 2017.
The Central Board of Indirect Taxes & Customs (“the customs” in brief) claimed that the statement was made by the consulate’s former staffer PS Sarith, in a deposition in October. It was while probing the gold smuggling case that the customs had, in August 2019, come across alleged illegal export of $ 190,000 by the consulate’s former financial head, Khaled Mohamed Al Shoukry.
The customs department has mentioned the claim against Vijayan in show-cause notices issued on 29 July to the six persons named in the illegal export of dollars.
The six — including Shoukry, Sarith, Swapna Suresh (then executive secretary at the Consulate), and former principal secretary to Vijayan P Sivasankar — have been told to file their reply within 30 days, before the case can be adjudicated on the basis of the evidence on record. Swapna is also an accused in the gold smuggling case.
Earlier, CPI(M) leader and former Assembly Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan’s name had surfaced over alleged smuggling of foreign currency. Yesterday, Sreeramakrishnan noted that the customs had not issued any showcase notice to him. “The Customs is convinced with my statement and about my innocence. Otherwise, they would have served a notice to me too.”
Sivasankar had been suspended following the gold smuggling allegations.
Separately, the Kerala High Court Wednesday stayed an order by the Vijayan government appointing a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to look into any “attempt” by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to implicate the CM in the gold smuggling case, saying a parallel inquiry would “derail the investigation”.
The Left government had appointed the CoI on 7 May. The court stay came on a plea by the ED.
Reacting to reports of Sarith naming Vijayan, the CM’s Office said, “The issue does not require any reaction. It had been debated a lot in the past. The matter is not going to affect us in any manner. The stated show-cause notices had been issued last month, but might have been leaked today against the backdrop of the court verdict (the High Court staying the state government’s CoI).”
The Customs says in its notices, “During the investigation, incriminating evidence of illegal export of foreign currency was unearthed against former Consul General Jamal Husein Al Zaabi, Ali Shoukry. However, they could not be confronted… as they were not available in the country… Investigations also revealed the involvement of persons holding constitutional posts… However, as key suspects Al Zaabi and Ali Shoukry could not be examined so far, appropriate action will be initiated against persons, herein named or not, on the basis of evidence.”
The customs department says that in his statement under Section 124 of the Customs Act, Sarith said that in early 2017, he got a call from the General Administration Department (of the state government) saying the chief minister planned to travel to the UAE. The arrangements for the delegation visit were coordinated by the consulate, with Swapna and then Consul General Jamal Al Zaabi handling the travel plans.
According to Sarith, Swapna sought the contact number of Vijayan’s aide Sivasankar in this regard.
Sarith said that after Vijayan had left for the UAE, Swapna called him and said the Consul General wanted him to collect a packet which the CM had forgotten to carry. Sarith said he accordingly picked up a packet from the Secretariat, from an employee of the General Administration Department.
The show-cause notice quotes Sarith as saying he decided to put the packet through an X-ray machine at the consulate out of curiosity. “He found that the packet contained a bundle of currency and some other items. He confidentially conveyed this to Swapna. As per the directions of Swapna, he handed over the packet to Ahamed Al Doukhi, the admin Attache at the Consulate, who was travelling to the UAE, to hand over that packet to the Chief Minister, on the directions of the consul-general.”
Swapna has reportedly seconded this in her statement to the customs, saying Sivasankar had called her and said there was an important packet that had to be sent to the UAE to the CM. She said Al Doukhi took the packet.
The show-cause notice also quotes Swapna’s statement to the customs, on 10 October 2020, that consulate official Shoukry and Al Zaabi carried foreign currency many times illegally to the UAE. Swapna also said she and Sarith had accompanied Shoukry up to Muscat while he allegedly smuggled dollars.
The CoI had been authorised by the state government to inquire into whether the contents of a voice clip and letter, stated to have been issued by the accused in the gold smuggling case, could be used to falsely implicate leaders of the political front of the state.
Staying the CoI, the High Court said, “If parallel investigations and inquiries are conducted into questions of the said nature… the same would impede and derail the investigation and would ultimately go to the benefit of the accused.”