By Swati Bhasin
Suspended IAS officer M Sivasankar’s WhatsApp chats with the key accused in the Kerala gold smuggling case – Swapna Suresh – were cited by the Enforcement Directorate today in a special court as the probe agency sought the custody of the former principal secretary of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, a day after his arrest. While the probe agency sought his custody for 14 days, the court granted a seven-day custody.
M Sivasnkar was arrested on Wednesday night following several hours of questioning in the case, which has been at centre of the state’s politics.
During his statement to Enforcement Directorate on October 15, “Sivasankar accepted to have spoken to a senior Customs officer and made the request as per the wishes to Swapna Suresh. This clearly shows his involvement in the offences committed by Swapna,” a special court for money laundering cases was told by the probe agency.
Whatsapp chats between Sivasankar and Swapna Suresh “revealed that she has requested Sivasankar to intervene with the Terminal Manager/Airport Authority/Customs Authority for some work at the Airport/clearance of Diplomatic Baggage without examination by the Customs,” it further said.
The analysis of Whatsapp chats is “also indicative of the fact that Sivasankar, in his official capacity, might have called for the clearance of other diplomatic cargos as well including the ones containing smuggled gold because nobody could tell what was inside such diplomatic bags once cleared un-examined,” the Enforcement Directorate had earlier said in an arrest order.
The Kerala gold smuggling case is being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Customs Department. It involves the smuggling of at least 30 kg gold allegedly through diplomatic channels in July. The gold worth ₹ 14.82 crore was seized at the Thiruvananthapuram airport from diplomatic baggage meant to be delivered to the UAE consulate on July 5.
“It has been found that 21 consignments were sent between 2019 and 2020 and Sivasankar’s involvement has helped in the commission of the offence. This clearly shows that Sivasankar knowingly assisted in the process of activity connected with the proceeds of crime and therefore committed the offence of money laundering,” the Enforcement Directorate said in the arrest order, underlining that “it’s clear Sivasankar has an interest in the finances of Swapna, the prime accused which includes the proceeds of crime seized by NIA from her locker and it is even possible that the proceeds of crime belongs to Sivasankar”.
Stressing that M Sivasankar “is a person of high influence in the state”, the probe agency insisted in the court that the custodial interrogation is “highly necessary to get clues and leads concerning the generation of proceeds of crime and its subsequent utilisation and concealment”.
Analysis of “evidences gathered so far, and the statement of various persons clearly establishes he is guilty of the offence of money laundering”. The suspended IAS officer has been given “ample opportunities to reveal and cooperate with the investigation,” the court was told, as the probe agency underlined “he has wilfully adopted an attitude of non-cooperation”.
M Sivasankar, who has been questioned several times by the three central probe agencies over allegations of his close links with the accused in the gold smuggling case, is the fifth accused to be arrested in the money laundering case, the Enforcement Directorate has said.
On Wednesday morning, officials took him into custody from the Triveni Nursing Home in Thiruvananthapuram, where he had been admitted. Later, he was arrested after several hours of questioning.
The suspended IAS officer had petitioned the court saying he was questioned by several probe agencies for more than 90 hours, but they have “not submitted any report or incriminating materials against him”, before the court.
However, the Enforcement Directorate and the Customs Department, had strongly opposed the anticipatory bail petition. His request for protection from arrest was rejected yesterday. ( NDTV )