As the demand for the resignation of Kerala higher education minister KT Jaleel, who was interrogated by the Enforcement Directorate two days ago, is getting louder the son of another CPI (M) minister allegedly figured in one of the incidents related to the sensational gold smuggling case.
A senior official familiar with the multi-agency probe said national agencies will soon question Industry Minister E P Jayarajan’s son in connection with the alleged commission in the Life Mission project brokered by Swapna Suresh, main accused in the smuggling case. Considered as the number two in the ministry, Jayarajan is a central committee member of the party.
The minister’s son also threw a huge party for Suresh in a star hotel in 2018, for settling his cheque case in the United Arab Emirates, said the official. He later emerged as an intermediary in the Life Mission project, funded by a Gulf-based organisation Red Crescent to build free homes for the poor, and reportedly accepted commission; the official said adding that he will be summoned to obtain more details about his association with Suresh.
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But chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has brushed aside these charges saying it was an attempt to sabotage a people-friendly project. “There is a concerted move to topple one of the dream projects of the government ‘Life Mission’ which is providing shelter to thousands of homeless. Opposition parties and a section of the media are busy cooking up half-baked stories to discredit the government,” he said.
But the opposition Congress and BJP have raised another serious charge against the minister’s family members who are under quarantine after he tested Covid-19 positive last week. “Flouting quarantine norms, the minister’s wife had gone to the Kerala Bank last week and opened the locker. We have information that she shifted some valuables from there after her son’s name cropped up in connection with Swapna Suresh,” said BJP state president K Surendran. Later, the bank manager also confirmed that she visited the bank on September 10 and all employees were advised to go into quarantine.
The minister’s wife PK Indira later admitted that she had visited the bank for her personal needs and she was not in quarantine at that time. Indira had retired as a senior manager from the same bank a couple of years ago. What has raised suspicion is the urgency with which she opened the locker breaking the Covid-19 protocol. There are reports the ED has sought details from the bank about her visit and transactions.
As the multi-agency probe gathered speed more shocking details have emerged—the Customs department has found that between 2017 and 2018 about 17,000 kg dry dates was imported by the consular office. “The office had mentioned that dates were imported for personal use. But in the small office staff members are below 20 and they never need such a huge quantity that is fit to open at least a couple of dry date shops,” a senior Customs officer said. He said Customs will examine the details of all imports from October 2016 when the consulate was opened in the state.
The Customs smelled trouble when large quantities of dry fruits, tinned food and bathroom fittings came to the consulate regularly. When one such consignment came in July the External Affairs Ministry sought the UAE permission to open the consignment (under Vienna convention permission is necessary) and seized 30 kg gold hidden in bathroom fittings. Last week, the ED had grilled Bineesh Kodiyeri, CPI (M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s son in connection with the Bengaluru drug haul. In a recent statement in the economic offences court in Kochi, the ED had said the gold smuggling case and drug seizure had close links.
The gold smuggling case figured prominently in Parliament on the opening day. In reply to a question, Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur said the multi-agency probe was going in the right direction and one of the accused in the case was influential. Meanwhile, for the third consecutive day the state witnessed protests seeking the resignation of Jaleel. Many opposition party workers were injured in baton charging.