Kerala CM’s principal secretary removed from the post as his name pops up with gold smuggler who is an official in his IT office
Gold is being smuggled through diplomatic consignments addressed to the UAE Consulate in Kerala through the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport.
And a principal secretary in the chief minister’s office is linked to this!
While this is currently hitting the headlines, gold smuggling has been ongoing briskly in 2019-20.
An RTI filed by The Lede reveals that, in all, around 400 kg of smuggled gold was sized in 2019-2020 itself.
Here is the break up from the RTI response of the gold smuggled in the past three years.
As evident from the table, gold seized from the Thiruvananthapuram international airport, over the past three years, totals around 114 kg.
Calicut airport has always been infamous for gold smuggling.
Gold was smuggled through the new Kannur airport too. The Kannur airport became operational only in December 2018.
Talking to The Lede, VD Sateeshan, Indian National Congress leader, said that his suspicions that the government is aiding the smugglers to evade tax has come true.
“On March 04, 2020, I had said in the Kerala Assembly that Rs 3000 crore is lost in gold tax due to gold smuggling. My claims are becoming relevant,” he said.
On March 04, the Indian National Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) staged a walkout from Kerala Assembly alleging that a group of Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front, the ruling coalition, politicians and the bureaucrats is helping the illegal gold business thrive, causing huge losses to the exchequer.
Satheesan, who had moved a notice for adjournment motion in the Assembly on the issue, had stated then that gold is being smuggled into Kerala and ornaments are made out of smuggled bullion. It is being sold by evading GST and, hence, the state is facing huge monetary losses.
"Only Rs 40,000 crore accounted legal gold business is taking place in Kerala and about Rs 2 lakh crore gold business is taking place in the black market," he added.
Satheesan had also said that the period when India followed the Value Added Tax (VAT) system, the Kerala government earned Rs 700 crore in 2016-17.
"As per the GST, the government should be earning more than Rs 3000 crore but only Rs 300 crore is coming into the treasury," he added.
Talking to The Lede a gold businessman in Dubai said that gold smuggling is done to evade tax and for money laundering operations.
“Around 17% has to be paid by a buyer for gold purchase in India. 17% includes 10.5% import duty plus 3% GST and the rest is another cess, like flood cess and education cess and all. So people go for unbilled purchase. Unbilled purchase can be done by shops only if they have unaccounted stock, which is smuggled gold,” the businessman told The Lede on condition of anonymity.
According to the businessman, Rs 5 lakh can be saved when a gold bar weighing one kilogram is smuggled into India from the UAE.
The businessman added that as COVID-19 has halted passenger movement up to an extent, the smugglers would have attempted the diplomatic route.
“They might have used this channel as carriers are not flying up and down due to limiting of aircraft due to COVID-19 restrictions,” he added.
Meanwhile, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s Principal Secretary M Shivasankar IAS has been removed from the post as his name has popped up in the latest gold smuggling case.
On July 05, customs officials at Thiruvananthapuram International Airport had seized 30 kg of smuggled gold addressed to the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram.
The gold worth Rs 15 crore was concealed in diplomatic baggage labelled as “foodstuff” and addressed to the UAE Consulate sent from Dubai.
Following the confiscation of smuggled gold, Sarith Kumar, a former UAE Consulate PRO was taken into custody.
And the police officials started a manhunt for his ally, Swapna Suresh, an Operations Manager at Spacepark in the Kerala IT department, where Shivashankar is the secretary.
A senior official who is closely connected with the probe told The Lede that Sarith has admitted the crime and his arrest has been recorded.
“Now sleuths are hunting for Swapna,” the official added.
The official said that the consignment had been in the cargo section since Friday and by Sunday morning it was found.
“Diplomatic packages are swiftly cleared at airports. But customs officials got suspicious and checked the packet,” he added.
“Sarith had worked as a PRO in the UAE Consulate since 2016 and was removed from service. Swapna had worked in the Consulate as Executive Secretary. She was also removed from the post,” the official added.
However, Sarith’s LinkedIn page claims that he still works as a PRO at UAE Consulate and he has worked in a Dubai bank in UAE.
Interestingly, Swapna also claims in her LinkedIn page that she works for the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.
Meanwhile, condemning the smuggling, the Embassy of the UAE in India said in a statement that a former locally hired employee of the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram was responsible for this act.
“The employee in question was fired for misconduct long preceding this incident,” the embassy said in a statement.
The mission added in the statement the employee in question must have exploited his knowledge of the mission's channels to commit the crime.
"The UAE looks forward to fully cooperating with Indian customs authorities to thoroughly investigate this matter and urges stringent legal action against those involved," it added.