Read the exclusive details as the UAE launches probe into gold smuggling
A ‘No Objection Certificate’ was given by the United Arab Emirates Ambassador in India to the customs department through the Ministry of External Affairs to open a diplomatic consignment addressed to the Charge d’ Affairs at the UAE Consulate in Kerala.
It was in this consignment that smuggled gold weighing 30 kg was concealed, the remand report of arrested smuggler reveals.
The remand report of arrested smuggler Sarith Kumar, 39, seen by The Lede, also reveals that the consignment was opened in the presence of the UAE Consulate Charge d ‘Affairs in Kerala and a Keralite who had accompanied him.
The report, exclusive to The Lede, adds that Sarith was fully involved in the cargo clearance claiming to be the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the United Arab Emirates Consulate, which is factually incorrect, and he had also formatted his phone when he came to know that his cargo was detained at the airport.
On Sunday, based on a tip-off, officers of the Customs (Preventive) Commissionerate visited the Air Cargo complex at Thiruvananthapuram airport and seized the 70 kg cardboard box labelled “foodstuff” sent from Al Zatar Spices at Sharjah in UAE.
Upon inspection, the officers found nine food items, 10 MSM Locks, 6 XOX Sanitation Series, two speakers, one pair of Nike shoes, two sets of wire, a portable volume compressor and one black carry bag.
The remand report adds that other than in the bag, shoe and wire, 30,244.900 grams of 24-carat gold worth Rs 14,82,00,010 was concealed in other items.
Responding to the customs officers’ queries, the Charge d’ Affairs has said that only the foodstuff belongs to him and neither he nor the UAE embassy was aware of the other items in which 30,244.900 grams of gold was concealed.
He had also added that Sarith’s help was used for odd jobs like clearing goods because the Charge d’ Affairs is not aware of Indian rules.
The Charge d‘ Affairs also has added that Sarith was a PRO of the UAE Consulate earlier but not at present.
The remand report also adds that Sarith had admitted to the crime but has been evasive to the questions on who his accomplices are.
However, Swapna Suresh, an Operations Manager at SpacePark, an entity under the Kerala IT department, is on the run. She had also worked in the UAE Consulate as an Executive Secretary.
Sarith had worked as a PRO in the UAE Consulate since 2016 and was removed from service. Swapna was also removed from her job in the Consulate.
However, Sarith's and Swapna’s LinkedIn pages claim that they are still working in the UAE Consulate.
On Monday, Swapna was ousted from SpacePark by the Kerala government, and by Tuesday afternoon, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s Principal Secretary M Shivasankar IAS was removed from the post.
Shivasankar is the IT Department Secretary under which SpacePark operates where Swapna was working on a contract basis.
Meanwhile, in his evening press conference, Kerala CM asked - "It is true that smuggling has taken place and the customs department has quite brilliantly busted the racket. But how can anyone link the state government to any of this?”
He said IT Secretary M Shivasankar was asked to step down due to reports linking him to such a controversial figure.
The chief minister referred to Swapna Suresh as a "controversial woman" in the press conference.
"But it does not mean that a legal charge has suddenly come up against Shivasankar. It is just that it is not right for a man who is linked to such a figure to continue in the chief minister's office," chief minister said.
The chief minister also said the IT Department, too, had no direct links with the "controversial woman".
"There are various projects under the IT Department. In one of them (SpacePark), the controversial woman was given the space selling or marketing responsibility, and that too on a contract basis," he said.
Additionally, responding to an allegation that a person from the CM’s office had called the customs officials to hush up the case, Pinarayi said that the customs department itself has denied this allegation.
The CM quoted a joint commissioner’s statement while he was responding to media, that nobody had called from the CM’s office.
Meanwhile, at 8 pm, the UAE Embassy in India tweeted that “the authorities in the UAE have launched an investigation to find out who sent the cargo containing gold to the address of the UAE consulate.”
“The UAE Embassy in New Delhi has launched an investigation to find out who sent a cargo containing gold to the address of the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram, it was announced on Tuesday,” the tweet added.
Meanwhile, Gulf News, quoting a statement from the embassy reported that that the culprits (gold smugglers) “who not only committed a major crime but also sought to tarnish the reputation of the UAE mission in India will not be spared.”