Swapna was present at the Kerala CM’s trip to UAE, even when his ministers were denied permission by MEA
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s suspended Principal Secretary and IT Secretary M Shivasankar IAS had travelled to Gulf countries with Swapna Suresh, the accused in ‘diplomatic baggage’ gold smuggling case, the Enforcement Department (ED) has said in a special court which handles PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) cases.
A copy of the ED plea (in possession with The Lede) seeking the judicial custody of Swapna Suresh, Sandeep Nair, and Sarith S, reads that Swapna and Shivasankar had travelled to the UAE in 2017 and 2018 and returned to India together from Oman in 2018.
All three are under ED custody since August 05.
On July 05, 30 kg of smuggled gold was seized from a consignment addressed to an official in the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram by Air Customs. Swapna, Sandeep, Sarith, and a few others were arrested following the gold seizure.
It is suspected that Shivasankar, who was close with Swapna, would have helped her in gold smuggling and money laundering.
The ED has also said in the plea that Shivasankar was 'fully aware' that Swapna's integrity was 'dubious' and also has added that Swapna wielded 'considerable influence' in the office of the Kerala Chief Minister.
Swapna was a contract employee in the Kerala IT department’s Kerala Start-Up Mission office which is headed by Shivasankar.
Before joining the Kerala IT department in December 2019, Swapna had worked with the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram.
Quoting Shivasankar’s statement, the ED has said that Shivasankar travelled with Swapna in April 2017 to the UAE, April 2018 to Oman, and October 2018 to the UAE.
The ED has not revealed the exact dates of their 2017 and 2018 travel. It has only revealed the exact travel dates of Shivasankar to the UAE between October 17 and 21.
However, government orders dug out by The Lede reveals that Shivasankar was in Dubai between 10 and 13 April, 2017.
The government order reveals that he was sent to the UAE to expedite the completion of the Smart City project in Kochi.
Smart City Kochi is a joint venture company of Dubai Holding and Kerala government.
Another government order found by The Lede reveals that Shivasankar was permitted to be in Oman between 12 and 15 April, 2018 to explore IT investments in India.
In the statement to ED, Shivasankar has agreed that Swapna joined him while he was returning to India from Oman.
And between 17 and 21 October, 2018, both were there in the UAE led by Kerala Chief Minister to get flood relief assistance.
In August 2018, Kerala was hit by the century's worst flood which claimed around 550 lives and damaged property worth 30,000 crores in the state.
Following the floods, on 03 October 2018, the Kerala chief minister had announced that 17 of the 20 state ministers would visit various foreign nations, including in the Gulf, South East Asia, Europe, and America, from October 17 to 21.
However, the centre granted permission only for the Kerala Chief Minister’s foreign visit, denying his ministers permission.
Interestingly, quoting Swapna’s statement, the ED has revealed that Swapna was there on that trip.
In the plea, the ED has stated that further proceeds of crime were kept by Swapna in the bank locker jointly opened with a third person as per the instruction of Shivasankar.
While seeking judicial custody, the ED has added that an in-depth investigation in this regard is to be conducted and added that if these accused are released on bail, they would abscond and also tamper with the evidence in the case.
Responding to the plea, the three accused were sent to judicial custody till August 26.
The ED had questioned Shivasankar on Saturday for more than four hours.
Shivasankar was earlier interrogated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Customs (Preventive) Commissionerate also.
Meanwhile, NIA teams have been sent to the UAE to probe the case further.
Faisal Fareed, a Keralite businessman in Dubai, is suspected to be the key person in the gold smuggling racket.
According to reports from UAE, he was taken into custody by UAE police and was questioned by NIA too.
Earlier on Monday, Kerala Minister G Sudhakaran had said Shivasankar was a traitor and should be punished.
“There is no evidence that he (Shivasankar) is part of the gold smuggling case or any criminal case; that is being probed by central agencies. However, that he has links with the accused is shameful and that's why he was removed. He will not be defended by anyone in this government,” Sudhakaran said.