Former Principal Secretary to the Kerala Chief Minister, and an accused in the Kerala gold smuggling case, M Sivasankar has released a new book, Aswathathmavu Verum Oru Aana (Ashwathama is just an Elephant), where he insists he’s innocent of the charges against him. In the book, the senior IAS officer also makes a few allegations against co-accused Swapna Suresh, and this has kicked off a war of words in the media between the two. Swapna is the main accused in the case, where 30.245 kilograms of gold was smuggled from the UAE to Kerala in 2020. Both Sivasankar and Swapna are currently out on bail in the case. Sivasankar’s book was released on Friday, February 4, and Swapna spoke to the media in the evening of February 4, refuting allegations against her in the book.
Swapna Suresh is a former employee at the UAE consulate in Kerala, and when the gold smuggling case came out, it was alleged that she used her proximity to smuggle gold from UAE to India. Swapna however has denied the allegations. Swapna’s proximity to IAS officer Sivasankar drew him into the case, and later, it was alleged that the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was also in the know as Sivasankar was his Principal Secretary. However, Swapna, Sivasankar, and two other accused in the case Sarith and Sandeep Nair, have denied Pinarayi Vijayan’s involvement.
One of the allegations against Swapna and Suresh is regarding irregularities in a LIFE Mission project in Wadakkanchery. LIFE Mission is a massive housing project by the Kerala government to provide houses to landless people. In Wadakkanchery, a UAE based NGO, Red Crescent, had offered to sponsor a housing project for flood affected people under the LIFE Mission. The construction was supposed to be done by a private firm called Unitac builders. Sivasankar was the officer accused of brokering the deal for Unitac with the UAE Consul General, and has been booked by the Kerala Vigilance and Anti Corruption Bureau for allegedly receiving kickbacks from Unitac for the contract.
In his book Aswathathmavu Verum Oru Aana (Ashwathama is just an Elephant) released on February 4, Sivasankar has alleged that a contentious iPhone that was surrendered by him to the customs department was a birthday gift from Swapna, and that he had no idea it was a bribe from Unitac. “Red Crescent, the UAE based NGO, has sponsored a LIFE Mission housing project. They had entrusted Unitac builders for the construction. Swapna got that phone from Santosh Eapen, the CEO of Unitac.The birthday gift she gave me was something that she got as a bribe. I never thought Swapna would do such cheating. I was in no need of an iPhone. Since it was a birthday present, I used it,” Sivasankar says in the book.
Swapna however has condemned the allegations, and has said the iPhone was a gift from the UAE Consulate General to Sivasankar, and that Sivansankar took it from her house when his phone had some issues. “On December 2, the national day of UAE, we used to do raffle draws and give away prizes. The iPhone was bought for that and it was given to Sivansanker as a token of appreciation,” she says, adding that she did not need to “trap him” by giving him an iPhone.
Swapna further says that Sivasnakar had a major role in appointing Unitac builders in the LIFE Mission Project. “Sivansakar was the only point of contact we (UAE consulate) had with the government. It was he and Jamal Hussain Al Zaabi, the Consular General of the UAE, who mutually decided on the company,” she said.
It has been revealed that the LIFE Mission housing project of the state government to construct the houses and a hospital at Wadakkanchery in Thrissur district was signed between UAE Consul General directly and Unitac Builders. The memorandum which was supposed to be signed by the Red Crescent and the Kerala government, was signed without either party’s presence. LIFE Mission Chief Executive Officer UV Jose and an engineer who was involved in the Wadakkanchery project gave statements that Sivasankar had asked them to provide all assistance to Unitac. Sivasankar received the phone as part of the bribe, the Enforcement Department had earlier claimed in the court.
Sivasankar mentions in his book that on July 1 and 2 of 2020, Swapna had contacted him through phone and WhatsApp, saying the officials of the consulate were getting angry as a consignment had not been released by the customs department at the airport. He claimed that though she asked him for help, he replied it's not right to interfere in this, as customs has its own procedures.
“On the night of July 4, Swapna and her husband Jayashankar reached my flat and requested me to intervene in the issue. Then they told me the baggage had some things for Sarith (another UAE consulate employee and a co-accused in the case), for which the duty had not been paid. I replied that I cannot get involved in this,” he says.
However, Swapna in her version to different media says that Sivansankar enquired about it and replied to her that the delay is due to the COVID-19 situation. “The relationship we had was such that he would never say no to me,” she says.
Sivansankar claims that on July 5, 2020 when it was revealed that the consignment had smuggled gold, Swapna and her family had fled.
The Enforcement Directorate told a Special Court in Kochi in October 2020 that Sivasankar helped Swapna Suresh open a bank locker in Thiruvananthapuram, where she is suspected to have kept the proceeds of gold smuggling. In the book, the officer says that he just introduced his chartered accountant to Swapna to help her open a locker.
Denying this, Swapna says that the locker was not for her. “Any common man can get a facility in a bank to save their earnings. Why would I open an account in someone else’s name to save my earnings? I don’t know the chartered accountant and it was Sivasankar who asked me to open the locker along with Venugopal, the chartered accountant. People can think about what is behind that,” she says, hinting that the money in the locker was also owned by Sivasankar.
She says all her money was put in a fixed deposit and it's been frozen by the Enforcement Directorate. “Why should I open a locker along with a person (Venugopal) whom I don't know at all?” she asks.
Swapna has also claimed that Sivasankar was behind her appointment in the state Space Park project – which is a programme under Kerala government’s Knowledge City Project in Thiruvananthapuram. “Sivasankar asked me to resign from the Consulate as he was aware about hanky panky affairs going on in the consulate. He always warned me that it was not safe to work there. Also, he did not like me transferring out of Kerala as he wanted me here,” she said.
“That is how he introduced me to the job in the Space Park. There was no interview, I was appointed on a phone call. I was not a government employee. I also wanted to resign from the job in the Space Park but he did not allow it,” she said. She also said that the senior officer had promised to get her settled in Dubai after his retirement, or after taking a voluntary retirement.
However, in the book Sivasankar totally denies any role in Swapna’s appointment to the government project. “A consultancy agency (PriceWaterhouseCoopers/PWC) that was entrusted to do initial procedures for the park, hired her through a human resources firm, on a contract basis. The consultancy was appointed temporarily. In Swapna’s biodata, my name was one of the references. Other than that, I did not recommend her to be appointed at Space Park,” he says in the book.
Throughout his book, the IAS officer has strongly condemned the media for “plotting against him.” He says that apart from cooking up stories, the media has also harassed him and those who supported him. “Media was behaving crazy in the whole drama in which someone has tried very hard to hide the truth,” he says.
The officer also blames investigation agencies. He says that they were trying hard to find something against him and to arrest him, and that they were pressured to drag the Chief Minister into the case. “The media created a background for that too. They wanted evidence, and there was none.They thought with my arrest it was easy to get a statement against the CM. But the problem they faced was that my statements to different agencies were the same, they matched with evidence too,” he says.
Swapna, too, has denied any connection of the Chief Minister to this case, which was majorly alleged by the media. She says that the CM was not aware of anything. She also denied the involvement of former Minister KT Jaleel and former Speaker Sreeramakrishnan in the issue, whose names were also dragged a few times as they were connected to Swapna and the UAE Consulate.
M Sivasankar was arrested on October 28, 2020, in connection with the sensational gold smuggling case. The smuggled gold arrived in a consignment to UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram in July 2020. Swana Suresh, Sarith and Sandeep Nair are the others who were arrested in relation to the case.