Kerala Ministers Violated MEA Protocol, Say Experts
Kerala ministers’ closeness with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram is a violation of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Protocols and can attract legal penalty if somebody approaches the court, experts said.
“If we go by the statement given by those who are under police custody in connection with the UAE-Kerala gold smuggling, then the Kerala ministers have violated the MEA protocols," former Indian diplomat TP Sreenivasan told The Lede.
Swapna Suresh and Sarith PS, both under custody in connection with the UAE-Kerala gold smuggling, have told the Enforcement Department (ED) that two Kerala ministers had visited UAE Consulate several times with personal requests.
The statements reveal that the ministers had approached the UAE Consulate for Ramadan food kits, COVID-19 medical kits and jobs for relatives and acquaintances.
Swapna's statement to ED even reveals that KT Jaleel, the Higher Education Minister, had requested the UAE Consulate to deport a Keralite from UAE who had criticised the minister on social media.
"How can an Indian minister approach a foreign country Consul General to get an Indian deported? If the minister has a complaint, then he has to approach the relevant authorities, not the Consul General," the former diplomat said, adding that if somebody approaches the court citing this violation, and if the court entertains the case, then the ministers can be penalised.
The MEA Protocol Handbook states that foreign missions in India will not establish direct contacts with the authorities in state governments/union territories on matters of substance and more than ephemeral interest, such as foreign trade, external aid, project collaboration, etc.
Jaleel had claimed in the media that he was contacted by the UAE Consulate to distribute Ramadan aid kits and also for the distribution of Quran copies in boxes.
Jaleel was grilled by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in connection with the distribution of Quran copies.
According to the MEA Protocol Handbook, on matters relating to states, the foreign missions will conduct all official business with the Ministry of External Affairs.
“Consuls General, Consuls and Trade Representatives, and Deputy High Commissioners of Commonwealth countries in India may communicate directly with State Governments on routine matters such as requests for factual information on technical subjects,” the handbook adds.
Sarith has revealed in a statement that Kadakampally Surendran, the Kerala Tourism and Devaswom Minister, has requested the Consul General for a job for his son.
However, when asked about the same, Surendran told the media that he had visited the UAE consulate in the capacity of a minister twice.
Sarith has claimed in his testimony that Jaleel and Surendran had visited the UAE consulate multiple times. Sarith has also said that the minister had visited the Consul General for a job for his son.
When asked about this, Kadakampally denied it, and he said that his son is currently working in Qatar. Surendran also said that earlier, the Consul General had asked him to find a solution to the traffic block formed in front of the Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram.
The MEA Protocol Handbook clearly states that proposals by foreign diplomatic missions in India on behalf of their governments, organisations, or institutions to invite ministers and senior officials of central and state governments and private Indian citizens as guests of their countries for attending conferences or for a holiday or any other purpose will be transmitted to the Ministry of External Affairs and not directly to the invitees.
Sarith also had added that Kanthapuram AP Aboobekar Musliyar, a religious leader heading a Muslim sect in Kerala, and his son Abdul Hakkim, had also visited the Consul General several times for collecting donations of Quran in large quantities.
Meanwhile, Sreejith Panickar, a political analyst, said that news of state ministers flouting protocol frequently, and so brazenly, is dismaying.
“While protocols exist for a reason, I fail to understand the rationale behind a minister talking a foreign diplomat into acting as his agent, and vice versa, in the pretext of good faith and sound relationship. Although the state government maintains that all communications with the UAE Consulate have been official, the statements of the accused as recorded by the investigating agencies are not in agreement,” Sreejith said.
He added that he is aghast at the revelation that two ministers approached the UAE Consulate to place their people in jobs abroad, and one of them even tried to avenge on a political opponent by deporting him back to India.
“If true, lobbying the Consulate for illegal deportation amounts to a grave crime, as it breaches clearly defined bilateral policies that prohibit extradition for political reasons, that too, without a sentence, court order, warrant, Centre’s approval, or written request. Both the government and the establishment that governs it are in a conscious denial mode and have been trivialising all allegations that come their way, contriving a new political dispensation, that is even more alarming,” he added.
The ministers’ protocol violations have come to light after 30 kg gold smuggled from UAE to Kerala and addressed to an official in UAE Consulate in Kerala was seized on July 05 by customs officials.
Following the seizure, many were taken into custody and the NIA, ED, Customs and CBI are probing the case.
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s principal secretary and IT secretary M Sivashankar is also being grilled by different probe agencies for his connections with Swapna, Sarith and the UAE Consulate.
The Lede attempted to contact officials at the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram but could not reach any of them.
An email questionnaire sent to the UAE Ambassador to India did not elicit response. This report will be updated when a response is received.