NIA: Swapna Capable Of Absconding Even During Pandemic
Swapna Suresh, the key accused in the ‘diplomatic gold’ smuggling case in Kerala, is influential enough to abscond even during the pandemic, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has said in the NIA court opposing her bail application.
“Swapna has contacts with influential people in the society and she is capable of moving and abscond even at the time of the pandemic. There is also the chance of tampering evidence and influencing witnesses,” NIA has stated in a counter filed in the court opposing her bail application.
When the gold was seized at Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, Swapna and her accomplice Sandeep Nair had fled to Bengaluru from Thiruvananthapuram to evade arrest. They travelled in a car without being stopped anywhere even when they were suspects and there were COVID-19 travel restrictions in the state.
She was taken into custody on July 11 from Bengaluru by NIA.
Swapna and 12 others are under custody of different investigation agencies in India in connection with smuggling 30 kg of gold worth Rs 15 crore camouflaged as diplomatic cargo and addressed to a UAE Consulate official in Kerala on July 05. The cargo was sent from Dubai.
Swapna was working under Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s Principal Secretary and IT Secretary M Shivasankar.
As close links between Shivasankar and Swapna were exposed, the chief minister was forced to suspend Shivasankar from service.
The NIA has also said in its counter in the court that the investigation is at a preliminary stage and Swapna cannot be granted bail.
“Many aspects of this crime, having bearing on national security or friendly relations with the UAE, are yet to be revealed and her further police custody may be required at a larger stage, especially after recovery and scrutiny of data from here seized digital devices, besides email and SM accounts,” the NIA has said.
Additionally, the NIA counter reveals that $8000, 700 Omani Rials, and Fixed Deposit receipts worth Rs 51 lakh were found and Rs 1 crore and 1 kilogram of gold was found in Swapna’s bank locker too.
Links to CMO
Meanwhile, Assistant Solicitor General (ASG) Vijayakumar, who appeared before the NIA special court opposing Swapna's bail plea on Thursday informed the special court that Swapna had established links with chief minister's office (CMO) through suspended bureaucrat Shivasankar, with whom she enjoyed close proximity.
The NIA court was informed by the ASG that Shivasankar, a trusted bureaucrat of CM Pinarayi Vijayan, had gone out of the way to appoint Swapna in the Kerala government's Space Park and he used to advise her on many issues.
However, the NIA's counsel has reportedly stated that Shivasankar did not interfere in the release of the diplomatic gold baggage despite repeated requests from Swapna.
The NIA informed the court that it has invoked the stringent provisions of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) against the accused in this case as the money funneled via the gold smuggling scandal is likely to have been used for financing terror activities in India.
The NIA has quoted Section 15 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Chapter IV, section 15 Terrorist Act, section 3a, states that damage to the monetary stability by way of production or smuggling or circulation of counterfeit Indian currency or any other material is equivalent to a terror act. Here the smuggled gold has been considered as material mentioned in the UAPA.
The NIA court will decide on the bail application on Monday.
Later on, talking to the media, Swapna's counsel said she did not claim she influenced the chief minister's office.
"The NIA seems to be saying that Swapna knows the chief minister. But that doesn't prove anything. Several people know the chief minister. After all, he is the chief minister," he said.
The lawyer also said the gold in the possession of Swapna was jewellery given to her for her marriage.
"120 sovereigns of jewellery is what any well-to-do Hindu family will have. If it were a gold bar, the situation would have been different," the lawyer added
Meanwhile, denying bail, the Customs has said in the court that Swapna has already demonstrated that she is extremely influential in the corridors of power.
“She also commands considerable clout in Kerala police. There have been instances in the past with credible records that the petitioner had threatened others taking advantage of her commanding position,” the Customs note reads.
Meanwhile, The Lede had found that about 900 kg of gold was smuggled into India through Chennai, Kozhikode, Cochin, Thiruvananthapuram, Bengaluru, Kannur and Mangalore airports in 2019.
The RTI replies sent to this reporter reveal that while 350 kg of gold was smuggled into India through Chennai airport, 450 kg of gold was smuggled through four airports in Kerala.