Kerala gold smuggling case: 2 key accused arrested from Bengaluru

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The National Investigation Agency (NIA) which joined the probe into the smuggling of gold through diplomatic channels in Kerala has achieved a big breakthrough by taking into custody two key accused

Swapna Prabha Suresh and Sandeep Nair, who were on the run ever since customs officials at the Thiruvananthapuram airport seized 30 kg of gold worth about Rs.15 crores smuggled in a diplomatic bag addressed to an official of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) consulate in the state capital were nabbed from a flat in Bengaluru on Saturday, July 11.

The two are expected to be brought to Kochi later on July 12. Swapna, who was staying in the flat with her husband and two children, fell in the NIA net after her daughter activated her mobile phone, while it was phone a call from his brother trapped Sandeep Nair.

The customs officials who were raiding his house in Thiruvananthapuram at that time seized the phone and tracked his location. The NIA had on July 10 registered the FIR under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and said it has taken up the probe as the case has international linkages and as the initial inquiries have revealed the proceeds of the smuggled gold could be used for financing terrorism in India.

Though Swapna Suresh has filed a petition for anticipatory bail in the Kerala high court in the case registered against her by the Customs, it won’t be easy for her to get the bail in the NIA case since the UAPA has no provision to grant bail.

With the arrest of Swapna and Sandeep, the number of people arrested in the case has gone up to three. The first one to be arrested was Sarith Nair, a former public relations officer with the UAE consulate at Thiruvananthapuram. He joined the smuggling racket after Swapna Suresh joined the organisation as the executive secretary of the UAE attache.

Both were removed from the consulate on the charge of alleged misconduct. However, they continued used their consulate credentials to smuggle gold in diplomatic bag. It is still not known whether they have forged the documents or any serving consulate official is involved in the smuggling. The UAE government has launched an investigation to confirm this.

It is learnt that the pivotal person in the racket is Sandeep Nair, who was earlier caught by the police in gold smuggling case. The NIA is now trying to track the end user of the smuggled gold. Name of one Fazil Fareed of Kochi has figured in the investigation. The NIA is trying to find out whether he has any links with any terrorist outfits.

Meanwhile, the case has kicked off a political storm in Kerala with opposition parties alleging involvement of the chief minister’s office in the matter. They connected the CM’s office with the smuggling since Swapna Suresh was appointed in a firm under the IT department held by the CM after she was removed from the consulate office.

IT secretary and chief minister’s principal private secretary Shivshankar, who appointed Swapna, has already been removed from both positions. Opposition leader in Kerala Ramesh Chennithala has alleged that the accused was getting help from top echelons in the government.

He said that she could not have left Thiruvananthapuram particularly at the time of triple lockdown without the help of the police. Bharatiya Janata Party state president K Surendran has also raised the same allegation.

Swapna Suresh has denied any involvement of the CM’s office in the case. In a audio clip circulated to media organisations she claimed that the gold was brought by the consulate officials and she had only helped them get it cleared from the customs.

The opposition leaders are keenly waiting for the interrogation of Swapna to know more about the operation. They are expected to pursue it vigorously since the election to the state assembly is due in less than a year.

Image Credit: Mathrubhumi

 

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