M Sivasankar, who was undergoing treatment at an ayurveda hospital in Thiruvananthapuram, was taken into custody on Wednesday in the gold smuggling case.

M Sivasankar with police and mediaPTI
news Gold smuggling case Wednesday, October 28, 2020 - 12:06

Kerala IAS officer M Sivasankar, who is the former Principal Secretary to Chief Minister, has been taken into custody by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) as the Kerala High Court on Wednesday dismissed his anticipatory bail in the controversial gold smuggling case. Although he was questioned by three investigation agencies multiple times, contrary statements by his Chartered Accountant and other witnesses worked against the senior bureaucrat, which prompted the ED to press for his custody. Sivasankar, who was undergoing treatment at an ayurveda hospital in Thiruvananthapuram, was taken into custody by the ED on Wednesday. The IAS officer is en route to Kochi to appear before the ED officials for further investigation over his role in the smuggling case. The ED issued Sivasankar the summons immediately after the HC rejected his pre-arrest bail plea.

According to reports, the High Court said that as a senior government official, Sivasankar should have exercised caution when dealing with Swapna, a key accused in the case. The Kerala HC had earlier given interim protection from arresting Sivasankar till October 27. The ED and Customs department had appealed against his bail. Earlier, when he was about to be taken into custody, Sivasankar was admitted to a hospital as he complained of chest pain. Later, he was shifted to the ayurveda hospital in Thiruvananthapuram for the treatment of his back pain. Customs had earlier told the court that the suspended officer was pretending to be ill to avoid the arrest. The officials even said that Sivasankar was the real beneficiary in the gold smuggling and one of the prime accused, Swapna Suresh, was just a pawn in the case.

Opposing his bail, ED had also told the HC that the agency had evidence to prove Sivasankar’s involvement in the crime. The investigation agency said that Sivasankar was so close to Swapna that she shared everything with him. They claimed that it was very unlikely that the former official did not know about the gold smuggling.

Sivasankar had defended himself in the court, stating that he was being harassed, as the investigation agencies are keen to take him into custody, despite him cooperating with the investigation.

The allegations, probe against Sivasankar so far

M Sivasankar, who was the Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister and a close aide of Pinarayi Vijayan, was removed from post and suspended from service days after the controversial gold smuggling case surfaced in early July. While he got suspended due to the alleged links with the accused persons, the allegations against the bureaucrat kept mounting in the following weeks.

Sivasankar was alleged to have a role in the appointment of Swapna Suresh as the Operations Manager of Space Park, a project under the IT Department, where he was the Secretary.

He was also alleged to have booked the flat in Thiruvananthapuram where the crime to smuggle gold into the country was allegedly plotted, the investigating officials had said. Later, there were allegations that the senior bureaucrat had helped Swapana open a bank locker where she could keep the proceeds of the crime. However, Sivasankar had denied this stating that he only introduced Swapna to his Chartered Accountant.

As the Enforcement Directorate, National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Customs department were investigating various aspects of the case, Sivasankar was summoned for questioning multiple times. He was let off after several hours of grilling in these instances. It was the Customs Department that first interrogated Sivasankar in the gold smuggling case, on July 15.

However, the statements of witnesses and accused persons have played out against Sivasankar, which has now led the investigation agencies to press for his custody.

Earlier, the WhatsApp chat history of M Sivasankar had revealed that he had asked his accountant Venugopal to leave Kerala soon after Swapna’s arrest. According to the agency, Sivasankar did not give clear answers to the agency when asked about the WhatsApp chat history with Venugopal, who is named as a witness in the case by ED. Sivasankar told that he does not remember about it, ED had said.

According to Venugopal’s statement, Sivasankar had asked him to open a bank locker jointly by him and Swapna Suresh. Venugopal had also told ED that Sivasankar was kept updated about the operations in the bank locker. Sivasankar, however, denied this in his statement.

Before the gold smuggling case surfaced, Sivasankar was in the limelight during the Sprinklr controversy, where the state had assigned a US-based company to handle the data of people under observation for COVID-19. When the Opposition Congress aired the allegation of data breach against the government, the senior bureaucrat had come out taking responsibility for the deal with Sprinklr company.

Read: Explained: Allegations against Kerala govt on privacy breach of COVID-19 patients

Notably, the Enforcement Directorate had also quizzed Sivasankar about the Life Mission controversy, in its deal with UAE-based humanitarian organisation Red Crescent. It was Sivasankar who took part in the meeting with the Red Crescent and UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram on behalf of the Kerala government. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is probing alleged Foreign Contribution (Regulation) violation in the Life Mission project.

Read: M Sivasankar IAS tried to ‘hijack’ MoU in Life Mission: CBI tells Kerala HC

Watch video: Sivasankar being taken into custody