In the latest developments in the controversial gold smuggling case, details of a close connection between the key accused Swapna Suresh and suspended senior IAS officer M Sivasankar has surfaced. The Enforcement Directorate probing the alleged offences under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, has told a Special Court in Kochi, IAS officer Sivasankar helped Swapna Suresh open a bank locker in Thiruvananthapuram, where she is suspected to have kept the proceeds of gold smuggling
In the statement (partial charge sheet,) ED has said that Sivasankar in late 2018 introduced Swapna to a chartered accountant in Thiruvananthapuram, who opened a bank locker for her on Sivasankarâs request. It is from this bank at the State Bank of Indiaâs city branch in Thiruvananthapuram that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) seized Rs 1 crore and gold, which is believed to be proceeds of gold smuggling.
Chartered Accountant P Venugopal, a witness in the case, and whose help Sivasankar sought for Swapna to open a bank locker, has given statements about the senior IAS officerâs role.
As per his statement, Sivasankar introduced Swapna requesting him to advise on her âfinancial mattersâ. Swapna told Venugopal that she needed help to deposit Rs 30 lakhs as fixed deposits. But Venugopal âadvisedâ her not to put fixed deposits rather open a bank locker. He says that it was Sivasankar who then asked him to open a bank locker in a joint name with Swapna.
Venugopal has further given statements that Sivasankar âwas kept informed about operations in the lockerâ. He has also stated that after the locker was opened, he had kept its key and the money was retrieved as portions multiple times and was handed to Swapna. When the locker was empty at one point, Venugopal says that he had asked Swapna to close the locker, but then she told him that she had kept âsome goldâ in it.
Meanwhile, Sivasankar has given contradictory statements to ED saying that though he introduced the chartered accountant and Swapna Suresh to deposit money, he states that he was not aware that a bank locker was opened. He also denied Venugopalâs statement saying he âdid not inform him everytime he operated a joint locker in the name of Swapna and Venugopalâ. In another contradiction, Sivasankar has also told ED that it was Rs 20 lakhs Swapna had to deposit when she was first introduced to Venugopal.
Sivasankar also gave a statement that Swapna had withdrawn the money from the locker to deposit at a co-operative bank where Sarithâs -- first accused in the gold smuggling case -- relative was manager.
According to Sivasankar, he knew Swapna from early 2017 when she was the Secretary to Consul General of UAE Consulate. He says Swapna had financial constraints and that he had lend her money on multiple occasions, which she has not paid back. Yet, he has not disposed of where Swapna got lakhs of money which he helped her to deposit in a locker. Sivasankar also goes on to justify in his statements that he is not aware how much amount was there in the bag of money which Swapna gave to Venugopal to be kept in locker.
Following this, in August 2018, Swapna resigned from UAE Consulate and secured a job at the Space Park project under Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Ltd, with the help of Sivasankar, where he was the Chairman.
Meanwhile, though Swapna Suresh has claimed that the money which NIA seized from this bank locker following her arrest was the commission she received as part of the Life Mission project, the ED states that there is no proof to prove it. The agency also says that the probe disclosed that Swapna had kept proceeds of the gold smuggling in the locker in the form of gold and cash.
The agency further states that Sivasankar was a key person in the ruling government and his ârole in the entire episode has to be thoroughly investigatedâ.
WhatsApp chats of Sivasankar
The Enforcement Directorate has also revealed details of the WhatsApp chat that Sivasankar and Venugopal had, but the agency states that Sivasankar has not given proper explanation to certain questions regarding this. The WhatsApp chats also give evidence that Sivasankar had knowledge about the locker that was opened for Swapna.
In one of the chats, Sivasankar tells âthanksâ to Venugopal when he messaged him that (something) was âkept in locker in her presence at 2 pm todayâ. Further in one of the messages, Venugopal asks Sivasankar to call him when âno one is in roomâ and to this Sivasankar replied âokâ.
In another one of the messages, Venugopal says that â17.5(12+4+15) will be sent to her and 1.5 kept for SBIâ, to this Sivasankar says âokâ.
Earlier WhatsApp chats of Sivasankar who allegedly helped gold smuggling accused to book a room in a hotel in Thiruvananthapuram, had also surfaced. It is suspected that the accused persons conspired for the crime in this hotel.