The two key accused in the controversial Kerala gold smuggling case, Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair, who were nabbed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) from their hideout in Bengaluru, have been brought back to Kerala. The duo was presented before the NIA Court in Kochi on Sunday afternoon and were remanded to 14 days judicial custody by special judge P Krishnakumar.
Since swabs of both accused were taken for COVID-19 testing and the results of the RT/PCR tests are pending, the court cannot hand over the accused to NIA. Instead, both Swapna and Sandeep will be lodged in a COVID care centre in Thrissur. As soon as their COVID-19 results come, and if it's negative, NIA can approach the court seeking custody.
It was on Saturday night that NIA officials arrested Swapna and Sandeep, accused of being involved in smuggling 30 kg gold into Kerala. The duo, who had been absconding for about a week, was nabbed from a hotel at Bengaluruâ€™s Koramangala.
When the team entered Ernakulam district, by around 1 pm on Sunday, the NIA convoy first halted at the Aluva District Hospital, where the samples of Swapna and Sandeep were collected for COVID-19 test.
Meanwhile, the Customs Department has taken another Rameez, a native of Malappuram, into custody, allegedly for involvement in the case.
Protests along the way
From the moment the NIA vehicle convoy, carrying the accused persons, crossed the inter-state border at Walayar, they had been met with protests by various opposition parties, all the way to Kochi NIA office.
Members of Youth Congress had taken their position near the Walayar check-post in Palakkad in the early hours of Sunday, following media reports that Swapna and Sandeep would be brought to Kochi.
By around 11.30 am, the NIA convoy crossed the Walayar checkpost amidst protesting Youth Congress workers.
In the visuals aired on the news television channels, many, including children, could be seen standing along the road, to catch a glimpse of the accused persons in the sensational case, which had been the prime talk of Kerala over the past week.
Notably, in between the three-hour journey from Walayar to Ernakulam, the car in which Swapna was, halted at two places. Just after crossing Wadakanchery in Thrissur, the vehicle halted when the tyre reportedly got punctured. Swapna, clad in a black dress and covering her face, could be seen being hastily shifted to another vehicle. Though media persons present at the scene tried asking Swapna for her reaction, the convoy sped away.
But a few minutes later, the vehicle halted again, reportedly for an investigation officer to join the team.
At the NIA office in Kochi, too, Congress and BJP workers protested, with many waving black flags at the accused. Though the main road to the NIA office in Kadavanthra was blocked by the police, many assembled on the adjacent lanes, trying to enter the NIA premises. The police then used batons to disperse the protesters.
â€˜How did the accused escape from Thiruvananthapuram?â€™
Meanwhile, Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala on Sunday lashed out at the state government, seeking to know how the key accused escaped to Bengaluru from Thiruvananthapuram, where a triple lockdown has been implemented from July 6.
"How can they reach Bengaluru without the help of top officials of the state government?" he asked.
He also asked why the state government was not suspending former IT secretary M Sivashankar despite serious allegations against him.
BJP state president K Surendran also slammed the Left government asking how the Kerala police, which stops the common man from travelling, "aided in the escape" of the accused.
The gold smuggling case has created a political storm in Kerala following allegations by the Congress and BJP that the accused persons have close connections with top officials in the Chief Ministerâ€™s office. The case was taken over by NIA on Thursday.
A day after Swapna was named in the case, M Sivasankar, Principal Secretary to CM Pinarayii Vijayan, was ousted from the post following allegations of his close association with the woman. He was also removed from the post of Secretary or the IT Department.
(With inputs from PTI)