In an exclusive expose, The Lede finds out that a COVID-19 positive patient is reluctant to talk about his movements as he could blow up the entire network
Remember the COVID-19 patient in Kasaragod who waltzed through the Calicut airport after arriving from Dubai, took a sleeper coach, attending marriages, shook hands with a couple of MLAs and thereby forced the lockdown of an entire district?
Well, that patient is “a suspicious person with smuggling history,” said a senior Customs official at the Calicut Airport.
“He is a suspicious person. We believe that he is involved in smuggling of goods,” said the senior official, who requested condition of anonymity. He added that the patient has a history of smuggling.
According to the official, the person has a “weird travel history” which is making the authorities smell a rat.
“Every week, he travels to different cities in the Gulf,” the official said.
On March 11, Ameer A, the patient belonging to Eriyaal village near Palliyara in Kasaragod, had arrived from Dubai. He tested positive on March 19 and was quarantined.
In the interim eight days, he had attended marriage functions, football competitions and had also hugged and shaken hands with two MLAs, who are now in self-isolation at their homes.
Interestingly, Kerala officials are struggling to track the detailed route map of Ameer’s travel and meeting details.
As a COVID-19 treatment protocol, officials have to prepare a route map of infected patients to find a patient’s primary and secondary contacts in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.
On Saturday, Kasaragod District Collector D Sajith Babu said Ameer was not cooperating with officials in preparing the route map.
“He is not telling the truth and it has become difficult to prepare the map,” he said.
A source in the northern Kerala gold smuggling network told The Lede that Ameer would not be able to tell officials whom he met and where he went.
“Ameer is running some small textile shops in Dubai and other cities. He is a facilitator, who finds carriers for the network. So he won’t be able to tell whom he met and where he went. Even the people he met in the hotel in Calicut would be connected to gold smuggling,” the source said.
“For a Kasaragod native, being involved in smuggling or hawala dealings is not a matter of surprise,” he added.
Ameer was not available for a comment over the phone when this report was filed, however, he had talked to Manorama News on Saturday and said that he is not a gold smuggler and his passport had been impounded by Customs officials. He added that he is yet to get it back.
Meanwhile, another source at Calicut airport Customs said that their internal intelligence report had flagged three persons as smugglers, including Ameer, who had arrived by the same flight.
On March 11, when Ameer arrived, the customs officials asked him and the two others to bring their luggage for inspection.
“But instead of bringing the luggage, the three persons slipped out of the airport with their baggage,” the official said and returned to the airport for their passports at 10.30 am.
They left the airport at 3.30 pm and returned at 8 pm. The route map says they returned because of some ‘baggage issue’.
The official said that six Customs officials were quarantined after coming to know that Ameer had tested positive.
The officials had impounded his passport too. According to sources, Ameer did not bother to get it back.
“The passport was taken for detailed examination by our team. He has not turned up to get it. So we have a strong reason to believe that he was into an “important” business,” the official added.
On the day of his arrival, Ameer stayed at a small hotel near the airport as there were some issues regarding the delivery of his baggage.
Early on March 12 morning, he checked out of the hotel and headed to Calicut Railway Station in an autorickshaw.
From the station, he boarded the Mangalore bound Maveli Express and travelled to Kasaragod in the S9 compartment.
Later, from the railway station, he took another autorickshaw to his home.
On March 12, Ameer visited his brother's house in the Maipady region. He also went to a club later in the evening.
From March 13 to March 15, he travelled across the district.
On March 13, he played football with children in the morning, offered prayers during the Friday Juma in a mosque and visited a saloon.
The next day, he attended a marriage function and a post-marriage function.
On March 15, he attended another post-marriage function. This was followed by a series of events including a house warming ceremony and a cradle ceremony on the following day.
On March 16 night, he visited a private nursing home in Kasaragod. His swab was collected on March 17 at the Kasaragod General hospital.
Ameer has also revealed that he stayed at his brother's house for the next three days after his samples were collected and then on March 19, he was admitted to the hospital isolation ward after his test results were positive.
In between this, Ameer had met Kasaragod MLA NA Nellikkunnu and Manjeswaram MLA MC Kamaruddin.
Kamaruddin had said that he met the patient for a few seconds only.
“While I was driving, a youth I knew waved his hand at me. If we don’t stop, people will talk about us. So I reversed the car a bit to say hello to him and shook his hand, and he took a photo with me. It was only later that he tested positive.
I have been carrying a sanitiser and perfumes with me and I had used it immediately. I am confident that I won’t be infected. However, I decided to go into self-quarantine,” Kamaruddin said.
Meanwhile, Nellikkunnu said that he had visited the patient’s relative’s marriage.
“I didn’t know that he was a patient. This happened on March 16. Now when I came to know that he is positive, I called the district collector and informed that I am going into isolation,” Nellikkunnu said.
Nellikkunnu and Kamaruddin are currently in quarantine at their homes.
A source in Kozhikode told The Lede that most probably the patient is going to blow up the entire North Kerala gold smuggling network.
“If he opens up and tells the names, agents in the network will be identified. Or even if it is not happening, if the people who interacted with the patient get COVID-19 also, the network will be blown up automatically,” the source added.
According to the source, gold smuggling is par for the course in Kozhikode and Kasaragod districts.
“Many politicians also have connections with this network. The price and tax difference between Dubai and India are what persuade smugglers to smuggle gold to India. Additionally, the gold is used for hawala purposes too. Smuggled gold is not melted into ornaments. It is used as bars and transferred from smuggler to buyer and from buyer to a smuggler for hawala money transactions,” the source added.
“If a kilogram of gold, which will cost Rs 40 lakh, is smuggled into India, tax money of around Rs 8 lakh, can be evaded or saved. This is the catch point,” the source added.
In the 2018-19 Budget, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had raised gold import duty further to 12.5%.
Gold also attracts a 3% Goods and Services Tax (GST), taking the total levy on the yellow metal currently to over 15%. This makes gold cheaper by at least Rs 4000 per 10 gm in those countries.
Once gold is smuggled, there is price arbitrage of at least 10% for those bringing gold.
Interestingly, The Lede has found that Kamaruddin has stakes in different jewellery stores worth Rs 57 lakh, according to his election affidavit filed in October 2019.
Additionally, there were reports that Kamaruddin is chairman of Fashion Gold jewellery.
Formed in 2013 in Karnataka by TK Pooya Thangal, the jewelry had showrooms in Kerala too. Later on, reportedly Thangal had gone into hiding as the business suffered losses.
When asked about the jewellery stores, Kamaruddin said that he said that he had only a nominal share and did not have any big role.
On March 04, the Indian National Congress-led United Democratic Front 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.
Senior Congress leader VD Satheesan, who had moved a notice for adjournment motion in the Assembly on the issue, stated that "As per the World Gold Council, 30% of gold market is in India and out of which Kerala accounts for 80%.
However, gold is being smuggled into Kerala and ornaments are made out of smuggled bullion. It is being sold by evading the GST and, hence, the state is facing huge monetary losses," he said.
"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 said, adding that as per the GST, the government should be earning more than Rs 3000 crore but only Rs 300 crore is coming into the treasury.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that 12 more had tested positive for Coronavirus in Kerala.
The total cases now number 52 with at least 52,785 in home quarantine, while 228 are under observation in isolation wards at various hospitals.
Three cases of coronavirus each were reported from Kannur and Ernakulam, and six from Kasaragod.
All those who were diagnosed with the virus on Saturday had returned from Dubai recently, Pinarayi Vijayan said.
The chief minister said that bans and prohibition orders will be strictly implemented if COVID-19 preventive measures are not followed.
“The government is not prepared to compromise on the safety of people in the state and even stricter controls are required to deliver on this promise. These proposals have been accepted by the majority of the population, and various religious leaders have expressed their full support. Meanwhile, there have been cases of mass gatherings in some areas. The government has once again requested that people avoid such events,” he said.
On Saturday, cases were filed by the police against the authorities of two temples, a mosque and a church for conducting prayers and allowing a crowd to gather in their premises.
Meanwhile, a committee comprising of the Chief Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Chief of Police will be constituted to ensure the necessary service. The Revenue Secretary will oversee the Disaster Relief Office and processes of data management.
The Committee on Public Transport, Transport Secretary, Transport Commissioner and KSRTC MD will oversee matters relating to transport and freights.
The chief minister added that a further shift will be put in place at the three government medical colleges in the state to allow more samples to be tested.
“Steps will be taken to collaborate with private labs and testing technology companies with adequate facilities,” he said adding that the government would seek the approval of the ICMR to start using the Rapid Test System for the diagnosis of COVID-19 cases.
Meanwhile, novel Coronavirus cases in India rose to 324 on Sunday, according to Health Ministry data. Of them, 41 are foreign nationals and Maharashtra is worst hit with 63 confirmed cases. Kerala has the second highest number of cases at 52.
In wake of the COVID-19 positive cases in the country, India is currently observing a 14-hour-long 'Janata Curfew' until 9 pm today.
All markets and establishments except those dealing in essential goods and services are to be closed for the day and several public services, including the Railways and metro services, are halted today during the public curfew.
Globally, the virus has claimed 13,000 lives and infected some 300,000 people.
Italy has reported 4825 deaths and while China’s toll is 3261 as of Sunday.