Flee To Nagercoil, Sivashankar Told His Chartered Accountant
M Sivashankar, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s suspended IT Secretary, had told his chartered accountant P Venugopal to keep quiet and flee as the probe agencies were investigating the UAE-Kerala gold smuggling case.
The WhatsApp chat seen by The Lede reveals that, on August 01, at 11:23 am Sivashankar told Venugopal “Just be quiet... If possible, just leave the city and be in Nagercoil or so...”
Sivashankar had given this advice after Venugopal updated him about Customs officials questioning him.
Sivashankar also pacifies Venugopal saying that “at best they (Customs) may array you as a witness.”
In the same chat, Sivashankar queries whether media had called Venugopal, to which Venugopal says - “There was a rumor like that some time back. Now they know that it is Suri and Co. and the CA is me. Somebody from some news agency called me. I did not respond. My Cochin partner enquired about this…”
In the reply, Sivashankar tells Venugopal to stick to the truth and there would be no problem.
Venugopal, however, adds that “If his and his firm name comes out, he might resign from the firm as he doesn’t want to bring disrespect to them.”
On July 05, 30 kg of gold concealed in baggage addressed to an official at UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram was seized in the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport.
The gold was sent from UAE to Kerala. Following the seizure, Sarith PS, a former UAE Consulate official, Swapna Suresh, Operations Manager at Space Park, and their accomplice Sandeep Nair, a businessman in Thiruvananthapuram, were taken into custody by the National Investigation Agency.
Additionally, the Enforcement Department, Customs, and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) joined the probe. A number of suspects were taken into custody and are being grilled by different agencies.
Probe agencies have found that Swapna and her team had smuggled gold 21 times through the airport.
The NIA had also said in the court that the gold smuggling accused might have some connections with proscribed terrorist Dawood Ibrahim.
According to NIA, smuggling gold in huge quantities would certainly damage the economy of our nation and if it reaches terrorist forces as apprehended by the Agency, it would damage the security of India itself.
As Swapna’s Space Park stint comes under the Kerala IT department which was headed by Sivashankar, he has also been quizzed by different probe agencies. In a statement to ED, Swapna had revealed that she was introduced to Sivashankar by the Kerala CM when she was working as a secretary to the UAE Consul General. Swapna had resigned from the UAE Consulate and had joined Space Park in 2019. She was recommended by PricewatershouseCoopers (PwC).
Interestingly, chat messages also reveal that Sivashankar was aware of deposits made by Swapna.
On the afternoon of 08 August 2019, Sivashankar had sent a message to Venugopal stating that Swapna would send Sarith to his office.
Venugopal replies that Rs 17.5 lakh would be sent to her and Rs 1.5 lakh would be kept for SBI. Sivashankar says okay. After handing over the money, Venugopal advises Sivashankar to confirm whether Swapna had got the money or not. Sivashankar confirms yes and sends a message, “yes, she has got it.”
That night, Venugopal sends a message to Sivashankar stating the details of Swapna’s money deposits and requests Sivashankar to request Swapna to do Income Tax filings. Sivashankar says “yes.”
Interestingly, when ED had questioned Swapna, she had told them that she was not aware of filing IT returns.
It was the statement of chartered accountant P Venugopal that trapped M Sivashankar, former principal secretary to the Chief Minister, in the Enforcement Directorate (ED) case.
Last week, Venugopal had told the ED that he had opened the joint locker with Swapna based on the direction of Sivashankar.
Venugopal had also said that when Swapna returned home with the cash, Sivashankar was present there. Venugopal added that Sivashankar was present when Swapna handed over the cash and held discussions afterward.
Meanwhile, the Kerala High Court has reserved its verdict on the interim bail plea of Sivashankar.
Sivashankar had filed for bail on cases filed by the ED and the Customs Department. He also got relief from arrest till October 28.
Recently, the Customs questioned Sivashankar for 11 hours and the ED had recently filed a chargesheet in the special court, saying that Sivashankar was an important link in the gold smuggling case.
The ED had said that a thorough investigation of Sivashankar is necessary, as he had arranged for the locker to be opened for Swapna.
Meanwhile, the manager of the Axis Bank Karamana branch has been suspended for his alleged links with the gold smuggling case and Life Mission scam.
Earlier, the probe team had found out that the bank manager had a close connection with the gold smuggling case accused Swapna. Both Swapna and the UAE Consulate have accounts with this bank.
Reportedly, Sivashankar had compelled the bank official to convert Rs 1.9 lakh to dollars to be smuggled out from India to the UAE.