The seizure of 30kg of gold from a diplomatic consignment at the Trivandrum International Airport has snowballed into a major political controversy in Kerala as the prime suspect of the smuggling racket happens to be close to the ruling Left Democratic Front government in the state.
Swapna Suresh, a woman who wears many hats, is a high-profile consultant with the Kerala IT department.
She is reportedly on the run after her name emerged in the investigation of a gold smuggling scandal which links her with top smugglers operating from the United Arab Emirates.
Speaking on the multi-million gold smuggling scandal, Customs Commissioner Sumit Kumar said various leads are being pursued by the investigators to unravel the names of those who profited from the racket.
“It’s a (gold smuggling) case which has links to other countries. We are in the process of identifying the kingpin,” Kumar told IANS without taking the name of Suresh.
Soon after Suresh’s name cropped up in the smuggling racket, state Bharatiya Janata Party chief K Surendran alleged that IT secretary and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s office exerted pressure for the woman’s release.
The BJP also alleged that the Kerala IT secretary was patronising Suresh, who is known for her top-level connections.
The IT secretary, who also happens to be the secretary to the chief minister, was a frequent visitor to Suresh’s residence.
Vijayan’s office, however, has denied any links with Suresh.
The state government also sacked her from the Kerala State IT Infrastructure Ltd (KSITL).
IT Secretary M Sivasankar was also removed from the post of secretary to the chief minister.
Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said Vijayan now fears that fingers are being pointed at him and hence he has made his secretary the scapegoat.
Sivasankar has applied for long leave.
However, he has not been removed from the post of IT secretary. Vijayan apart from holding the Home portfolio also heads the IT department.
The opposition has demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into Suresh’s appointment in KSITL, despite a Crime Branch probe pending against her.
The CPM and the Left Front are shocked at the turn of events while the Congress and the BJP have taken to the streets across the state demanding the resignation of Vijayan.
Yesterday, Vijayan was closeted with the state police chief and the chief secretary.
“Just look at her salary, it’s mind boggling. What sort of an interview or test was done to recruit her in the IT department, when she is only an ordinary graduate and one does not know what her experience is? It’s a shame what we are seeing in Kerala which involves links with smugglers,” said former minister and senior RSP leader Shibhu Baby John.
Senior BJP leader P K Krishnadas came down heavily on Vijayan and said he is continuing to protect Sivasankar.
“Sivasankar is only removed as Vijayan’s secretary, while he continues to hold the IT secretary post and this is because he is getting lot of support from Vijayan’s daughter (who has an IT firm). The Special Branch police had informed Vijayan about Swapna’s not-too-clean record as she had a case against her, but all this was overlooked and she was appointed in a high paying job with practically no qualifications for such a job,” Krishnadas said.
Sources in the customs said that Suresh was born and brought up in Abu Dhabi.
In 2011, she got a job in a travel agency in Thiruvananthapuram.
Two years later, she joined Air India SATS but left for Abu Dhabi in 2016 when the Crime Branch initiated a probe against her in a forgery case.
She then got a job in the UAE consulate.
As she is fluent in Arabic, she got in touch with Arab businessmen and led several delegations to Kerala.
Sources said that during her stint in the travel agency and later in AI SATS, Suresh got in touch with several officials at airports and customs.
She also got an insight into the delivery and handling of diplomatic consignments.
It is believed that due to her connections in Kerala as well as in the UAE, Suresh gradually got acquainted with various groups and allegedly used the system to smuggle gold through diplomatic consignments.
“It’s too early to say that for how long diplomatic baggage was being used to smuggle gold into India. We have to wait for the interrogation of the prime suspect (Suresh) before we can assess the scale of smuggling racket,” said a senior customs official.
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