The customs department is planning to move the Kerala high court against the state jail department’s decision not to allow its officials along with visitors who want to meet the prime accused in the Kerala gold smuggling case– Swapna Suresh.
Lodged in a women’s prison in the state capital under Cofeposa (Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act), recently, the customs had issued a directive to the jail that it should be informed about anyone visiting her and a customs official will accompany the visitor.
But the jail department had refused and sent back a customs official last week who accompanied her relatives to the jail. State jail chief Rishiraj Singh said such a move will set a new precedent and demoralise jail officials. But customs officials fear that it is an attempt to weaken the high-profile case.
“We have already informed the Cofeposa board about this. We will move the High Court next week. She had already complained that she was facing serious threats and some people met her in the jail and forced her to change her statement,” said a senior official who did not want to be named.
He said if the situation continued like this the department may move the apex court to shift the case to another state. He also said state police and jail officials were not fully co-operating with ongoing probe. But the jail department maintained that normal jail procedures and laws were applicable to Cofeposa detainees also and officials can’t be allowed with visitors every time.
In December first week, Suresh had told a court dealing with economic offences in Kochi that her life was in danger and sought special protection in jail and for her family members too. She said she was under pressure not to take big names and some people met her in jail a couple of times to pressurise her in this regard. Later, the court directed the prisons department to provide enough security for her in jail.
Following the court directive her security was beefed up in jail. Central agencies probing the case had expressed concern over her revelations and later customs had issued a directive to the jail authorities that it should be informed about all visitors to her and an official will accompany them. But the jail department said it cannot be allowed and it will also question the integrity of its officials.
The gold smuggling case came to light on July 5 after 30 kg of gold was seized by the customs from a package camouflaged as diplomatic consignment addressed to the UAE consulate in the state capital. Later PS Sarith Kumar, a former public relations officer of the consulate who came to receive the baggage, was arrested by the customs.
Five days later two other suspects, Swapna Suresh and her accomplice Sandip Nair, were arrested from their hideout in Bengaluru by the National Investigation Agency. Later, senior IAS officer M Sivasankar, Kerala CM’s principal secretary, was arrested after his alleged links with Suresh surfaced. During the probe it was discovered that smuggling through the consular office was continuing for more than a year.
Currently, a multi-agency team involving five central agencies is probing the case and has arrested 34 people. The Enforcement Directorate had interrogated another secretary of the chief minister, CM Raveendran and state minister K T Jaleel a couple of times earlier in connection with the case.