On July 5, 30 kilograms of gold worth Rs 14.86 crore was seized from a carton addressed to an official at the United Arab Emirates Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram. Since then, the gold smuggling case has seen a series of suspensions of government officials, arrests of four key accused, allegations against the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Kerala government, more names being added to the lists of suspects and even a suspected terrorism angle.
The Customs Department, National Investigation Agency and the Enforcement Directorate are probing different angles now. Here is a brief of all the important developments in the case.
The consular bag, protected by certain immunity powers, was opened in the presence of the Consulate officer, Rashid Khamis Al Sheimeili. Nine food packets and gold concealed in cylindrical pipes were found in the bag. While the Consulate officer said the food packets belonged to him, he said his former employee, PS Sarith had to be asked about the gold. That is how the case first surfaced.
PS Sarith, the first accused: Although he had resigned from the UAE Consulate months ago, a UAE Consulate officer continued to make Sarith handle the import of goods from UAE.
Swapna Suresh, the second accused: Like Sarith, Swapna, too, continued to work for the UAE Consulate even after she resigned in September 2019. Swapna was working as a contract staff for a project implemented by the Kerala Information Technology (IT) Department.
Faizal Fareed, the third accused: Faizal, who runs a grocery store in UAE, is said to have helped smuggle gold from UAE. He is yet to be brought back to India.
Sandeep Nair, the fourth accused: Sandeep reportedly passed the smuggled gold to another key suspect, Rameez KT, to sell them to the jewellery shops.
As the Customs Department and later the NIA continued the interrogation, they zeroed in on other persons who are suspected to have bought the gold, acted as middlemen to find buyers and even sell the gold to gold jewellery shops. Currently, 15 such persons have been named as suspects and accused in the case.
The UAE Consulate officer, in whose name the baggage arrived at the Thiruvananthapuram airport, left India a few days after the case surfaced. None of the Indian agencies has said that they will question this officer who enjoys certain consular immunities. Call records show that he was in constant touch with Swapna over the last one month and was in communication with Sarith, too.
M Sivasankar IAS was suspended as the IT Secretary and the Principal Chief Secretary to the Chief Minister for his links with Swapna and Sarith. Sivasankar knew Swapna and a government probe also found that he had recommended her for a consultation job with the government. He is currently being interrogated by NIA. He appeared before the NIA on Thursday and has been asked to appear on July 27. He was also questioned for many hours by the Customs Department earlier.
Arun Balachandran was removed from the post of Chief Minister’s IT Fellow for allegedly booking an apartment for Swapna.
While the UAE Consulate officer has left India, his personal security guard, Jayaghosh has been suspended from service. The Kerala DGP has been questioned by the opposition for extending Jayaghosh’s posting at the Consulate based on requests by the consulate.
The Enforcement Directorate has filed a case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act against the main accused. Once the NIA and Customs custody is over, ED will take the suspects into their custody.
The NIA said that the accused used the proceeds from smuggling to finance terrorism through various means. The agency also said that they conspired to “damage the monetary stability of India by destabilising the economy by smuggling large quantities of gold from abroad”.
The transfer of Customs officials in charge of the case was deferred after outrage over it.
Investigators say 230 kg of gold was smuggled to India in a year. These came in 13 consignments to the Thiruvananthapuram airport.
Industrialist Kiran Marshal, who was accused of harbouring Swapna Suresh while she was on the run, has refuted allegations.
Bhima Jewellers approached the court with a defamation suit alleging that they were being unnecessarily dragged into the controversy using a picture of its Managing Partner with Consular General, Swapna Suresh and others. The picture was clicked at an official event hosted by the Consulate, they said.