A day after Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that the state government has nothing to do with the gold smuggling case and any action has to be taken by the Centre, Union Minister V Muraleedharan, also from Kerala, said that Pinarayi cannot wash his hands of in the incident.
On Sunday, the Air Customs attached to the Thiruvananthapuram airport had seized 30 kilograms of gold that arrived on a cargo flight and was kept in a warehouse for release. The baggage had arrived from Dubai and is understood to have been marked to the UAE consulate which has its office in the heart of the state capital Thiruvananthapuram.
The consulate's former PRO (public relations officer), Sarith, has been arrested, while the prime suspect in the smuggling racket, Swapna Prabha Suresh, is absconding. She was a former employee of the UAE consulate, and a contract staff under the IT Department of Kerala government.
She is alleged to be known to senior IAS official M Sivasankar, who has been removed as secretary to the Kerala CM and as the state IT secretary.
Union Minister of State for External Affairs Muraleedharan told the media in Delhi that the Centre views this gold smuggling case very seriously. Pinarayi had written to Prime Minister Modi calling for a central agency probe into the allegations.
"All those involved in this smuggling will be brought to book. Various central agencies are seized of this case and are doing their work. I will not be in a position to say if this agency or that agency is looking into it. What's most surprising is that Pinarayi says the state government has nothing to do with it. He just cannot wash his hands of," said Muraleedharan.
"It's most surprising that his own confidant and high ranking IAS official holding the post of his secretary and also heading the IT department had close links with an accused in the case. Yet he says they have no role. You (Pinarayi) and your agencies have a very crucial role in probing this and yet you say since the airport comes under the Centre, the state government has no role. Your right-hand man is in trouble," added Muraleedharan.
Swapna had worked in the consulate office and is reportedly known to Sarith.
"This case is just not a mere smuggling case and there is more to it. And this case is not just a one-off issue and the authorities did not just open a baggage. They opened the baggage after following the rules. The various agencies are now looking into this case and depending on the circumstances, the agency or agencies concerned will do the needful," added Muraleedharan.
The Congress-led UDF and BJP-led NDA on Wednesday demanded Pinarayi resignation and a probe into the gold smuggling case. The Congress said a CBI investigation was needed in the case.
Defending Pinarayi, was his number two in the Cabinet and State Industries Minister EP Jayarajan, who blamed the Congress and the BJP for trying to help the smugglers.
"These parties are trying to divert issues by emphasising on Swapna, when the real issue is the smugglers. They are going berserk seeing the popularity of the Pinarayi government and are saying baseless things and want to help the smugglers," said Jayarajan.