The National Investigation Agency (NIA) probing the Kerala gold smuggling case on Tuesday filed the first charge- sheet against selected accused in a special court in Kochi. In a surprise move, fourth accused in the case Sandip Nair, who was arrested along with prime accused Swapna Suresh from their hideout in Bengaluru in July, was made an approver in the case.
The NIA filed the first chargesheet since some of the accused were planning to move court for bail citing their 6-month long judicial custody. Twenty people have been named in the charge-sheet and they were booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act Sections 16, 17, 18 and 20, said NIA in a statement.
But senior IAS officer M Sivasankar, who was Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s secretary, did not figure in the initial charge-sheet. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) had arrested him in connection with money laundering related to the smuggling case. Among the 35 arrested, 20 figure in the first charge-sheet. A senior official familiar with the probe said a supplementary charge-sheet will be filed later as the investigation progressed. He also said hectic efforts are on to extradite some of accused staying in West Asian countries.
The chargesheet was filed by investigating officer Radhakrishna Pillai before the NIA court. Earlier, while hearing the bail pleas of some of the accused, the court had repeatedly asked the agency to submit the terror angle evidence in the case. This is the first time the agency slapped the UAPA, which is usually invoked for terror incidents, in a smuggling case.
“Investigation revealed that the accused had knowingly conspired since June 2019, raised funds and smuggled from the UAE, between November 19 and June 20 around 167 kgs of gold, through the import cargo addressed to diplomats at the consular general office of UAE in Thiruvananthapuram,” said the NIA. The main accused in the case also planned to smuggle more gold from countries like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, it said adding eight accused were absconding. The case was registered by the central agency on July 10.
The sensational gold smuggling case came to light on July 5 after 30 kg of the yellow metal 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. Customs sniffed trouble after many household items were imported through the consular office.
Five days later, two other suspects, Swapna Suresh and her accomplice Sandip Nair, were arrested from their hideout in Bengaluru by the NIA. Later senior IAS officer M Sivasankar, Kerala CM’s principal secretary, was arrested after his alleged links with Suresh surfaced.
Now a multi-agency team involving five central agencies is probing the case and has arrested 34 people. The Enforcement Directorate had grilled another secretary of the Chief Minister, CM Raveendran, and state minister KT Jaleel a couple of times in connection with the case.
Meanwhile, Speaker P Sivaramakrishnan’s additional private secretary K Ayyappan, who was summoned by the Customs in connection with the case, failed to appear before the agency. He later informed the Commissionerate of Customs that he would appear after getting a proper notice. There is a strong speculation that the Speaker will also be summoned. There are many allegations saying he travelled with some of the accused during foreign trips.