Sivasankar | Photo: Mathrubhumi
Kochi: A special PMLA court on Wednesday sent the former Principal Secretary to Kerala Chief Minister Office, M Sivasankar to five days of remand till February 20 in the custody of Enforcement Directorate (ED).
The 60-year-old former bureaucrat was arrested late Tuesday after his questioning by the ED in connection with the LIFE Mission bribery case. He had been questioned for the past three days.
The court directed to produce Sivasankar again at 2.30 pm on February 20 at the same court.
Court also directed ED to give relaxation time to Sivasankar after every 2 hours of interrogation.
The case involves the alleged violation of the Foreign Contribution (Regulations) Act in the project, which intended to provide homes to the poor who lost their houses in the floods of 2018.
He was summoned after the ED recently completed a few rounds of questioning of Swapna Suresh, the prime accused in the gold smuggling case, and interrogated her along with two other accused in the same case.
The CBI had earlier arrested Santhosh Eapen, Managing Director of Unitac Builder, Kochi besides questioning top government officials, including Sivasankar, in the LIFE Mission case.
The case surfaced after the gold smuggling case came to light in June 2020 in which Sivasankar was jailed.
Both Swapna Suresh and Sarith employed in the UAE Consulate were later found to have a role in LIFE Mission funds misappropriation too.
The ED started its probe after filing Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) in 2021 in the LIFE Mission Case on the basis of a First Information Report (FIR) report of the Central Bureau of Investigation's Cochin unit under Section 35 and Section 3 of Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 based on September 30, 2020, FIR of Special Investigation Unit-1 (SIU-1) of the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau, Thiruvananthapuram against Unitac Builders and Developers Private Limited and Sane Ventures LLP and others for suspected pecuniary advantage obtained by some persons from the LIFE Mission Project and illegal gratifications received by various persons including some public servants.
It was alleged that a commission of Rs 4.5 crores was given to middlemen including state representatives and government officials out of the funds received from UAE Red Crescent meant for flood-affected victims of Kerala.
Subsequently, on November 1, 2020, Special Investigation Unit-1 (SIU-1) of the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau, Thiruvananthapuram had named M Siwasankar, Swapna Prabha Suresh, Sarith P. S., and Sandeep Nair as accused in their case.
The money laundering angle of the same is being investigated under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, of 2002.
During the course of the investigation, it is revealed that the LIFE Mission of Government of Kerala had made a Memorandum of Undertaking (MoU) with Red Crescent, UAE for the construction of residential apartments to flood affected people in Wadakkanchery Municipality.
Red Crescent was an international charity organization taking up humanitarian and social development work throughout the world. Red Crescent, UAE offered to build flats under Livelihood Inclusion Financial Empowerment (LIFE) Mission Project and hence an MoU was signed on July 11, 2019.
With regard to the selection of a vendor for the execution of the project, material evidence such as Whatsapp conversations between M Sivasankar and Swapna Suresh clearly indicates that the contract was fixed for Unitac Builders and Developers run by Santhosh Eappen, mentions an ED document.
"When the material evidence was confronted by Swapna Suresh, she admitted that an upfront commission as bribe was demanded and Unitac Builders and Developers agreed to pay the upfront commission before execution of the project."
It was also admitted by Swapna Suresh that this upfront commission was paid by Santhosh Eappen to the officials after receiving the amount from Red Crescent, said the ED.
The money trail obtained from UAE Red Crescent to Unitac Builders Developers and subsequent withdrawals on the very next day of transfer was found during the course of the investigation, said the ED.
Along with the material evidence of details of payments to be made to the officials (hand-written by Santhosh Eappen) and the money trail confronted Santhosh Eappen.
In response to this, Santhosh Eappen admitted to payment of an upfront commission to procure the contract in the LIFE Mission Project.
Material evidence such as the WhatsApp conversation and the statement of Swapne Suresh and Santhosh Eappen was confronted by Sivashanker.
During the initial confrontation, Sivasankar mentioned that Government had no role in the allocation of the contract to Unitac Builders and Developers. However, when the material evidence such as Whatsapp conversations between Sivasankar and Swapna Suresh regarding the allocation of a contract to Unitac Builders and Developers was confronted by Sivasankar, he was evasive in answering and non-co-operative in his approach.
In addition, the ED said, it is also found that the details of the IMEI number of the iPhone in possession of Sivasankar have been verified against the details gathered from the vendor of iPhones and also the details submitted by Santhosh Eappen. It was found that both the IMEI number tallied which establishes the evidence that the phone was given to Sivasankar by Santhosh Eappen. When this material evidence was confronted, Sivasankar was evasive and did not provide any material fact to substantiate his version.
"In addition to the above, it was found that the locker was opened by Swapna Suresh to handle the funds obtained from the proceeds of the crime. In this regard, under the directions of Sivasankar, Venugopal, CA, was assisting with the opening of the locker along with Swapna Suresh. While confronting the details of the same, Sivasankar was evasive in responding to it. It is clear that Sivasankar had his interest in the upfront commission earned from Unitac Builders and Developers run by Santhosh Eappen," said the ED.
On the basis of the investigation, the ED said, it is evident that a huge amount of money which has been collected for the provision of residential homes to the hapless flood victims of Kerala was siphoned off as an upfront commission for the allocation of the project contract.
Despite giving ample opportunities to reveal and cooperate with the investigation to unravel the complete modus of laundering the proceeds of crime, the agency said, Sivasankar, has wilfully adopted an attitude of non-cooperation by either evading the query or giving misleading and evasive replies.
By such action of wilful non-co-operation, the ED said, Sivshankar is impeding the investigation by not disclosing the facts which are in his exclusive knowledge. (ANI)