Gold smuggling: Customs quizzes CM's former principal secretary Sivasankar for 9 hrs
Thiruvananthapuram: In connection with the gold smuggling in diplomatic baggage at Thiruvananthapuram airport, the Cusoms interrogated the chief minister's former principal secretary M Sivasankar for nine hours. The quizzing started on Tuesday at 5.30 in the evening and continued till Wednesday at 2.15 in the early morning. After this, the Customs officers dropped him at his house in Poojappura.
It is learnt that important information was collected during the interrogation. The Customs came to know that Sivasankar pressurized in many ways to get back the gold seized at the airport. He also intervened via cargo complex. According to reports, Sivasankar had said that Swapna was his colleague and Sarith was his friend. He added that he had called Swapna many times and knew her for 4 years.
Meanwhile, the Customs team also collected the register and CCTV visuals of the guests at Hilton Inn hotel in Thiruvananthapuram growing suspicious about four people who stayed there on July 1 and 2. They received visuals of the four meeting Sivasankar.
The Customs Commissioner and officials from Kochi also took part in the interrogation via video conferencing, it is learnt. They came to know that Swapna and family had lived in a flat near the flat rented by Sivasankar. It is unusual to interrogate an IAS officer in the late hours.
The officials hinted that they collected crucial details in the quizzing. The Customs team reached Sivasankar's house on Tuesday by 4 pm and then summoned him to office for interrogation. The call list showing Swapna Suresh had called Sivasankar and minister K T Jaleel had come to light.
Asked whether action would be taken against the official in the backdrop of the Customs summoning him, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said a panel headed by Chief Secretary Dr Vishwas Mehta was probing the charges against the bureaucrat and action would be taken, if he was found guilty.
"As of now, there are no grounds for suspension. His phone records now show that he had contacts with the woman accused in the gold smuggling matter. The recent reports also claim RPT claim that he had links with another accused in the same matter. The panel headed by the Chief Secretary is looking into the charges and if proved, we will take action," Vijayan said.
The Commissionerate of Customs (Preventive) here is probing whether Sivasankar, also removed as IT secretary, had used his office to provide any help to the key accused Swapna Suresh, Sandeep Nair and Sarith, the sources said.
The government had removed Sivasankar as Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister and also IT Secretary after allegations surfaced that he had links with the woman accused in the case related to the attempt to smuggle gold through diplomatic baggage using the name of a person in the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram.
The Customs seized the gold, weighing over 30 kg and valued at around Rs 15 crore on July 5. The National Investigation Agency has been entrusted with the probe into the case by the Centre. Meanwhile, Pinarayi Vijayan also dismissed the allegation against Minister K T Jaleel that he had contacted the woman accused in the case.
"The minister had explained the circumstances under which he contacted her. The phone calls were related to a UAE consulate-related matter," the Chief Minister said. Earlier, there were media reports showing phone records of Swapna in which she had contacted Jaleel a couple of times.
"Yes, on May 27, I received a message from the UAE Consular General, enquiring about donation of food kits on behalf of the Consulate. They earlier used to donate food kits during Ramzan time. But this year, due to covid protocol, it was not possible. So the Consular General asked me whether I could arrange for the distribution of the food kits," Jaleel said.
The minister also released a screenshot of the message sent by the Consular General, in which the top UAE official in India tells him that Swapna,who was his secretary,will contact Jaleel for further communication with regard to the donation.
"I replied to the Consular General that it could be arranged through Consumerfed (Kerala State Co-operatives Consumers Federation Ltd) at Edappal and we received around 1,000 food kits for distribution. The bill for the food kits were generated in the address of the Consular General and sent there. And Yes, I had to contact the Secretary for clearing the bill. You can see how long the phone calls to the woman lasted," Jaleel said.
The documents on the phone calls showed eight made between the minister and the woman, which lasted a couple of minutes.
(With inputs from PTI )