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Thiruvananthapuram, July 7, 2020
As Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan came under fire in the gold smuggling case involving the former PRO of the UAE consulate here and a Kerala woman on Tuesday, Vijayan said he is ready for any probe and it is the Centre's call.
"We have no say in it, we are ready for any probe and the Centre can decide which agency should probe this," said Vijayan.
Swapna Suresh, a high-profile consultant with the Kerala IT department, is reportedly on the run after her name emerged in the investigation of the gold smuggling scandal which links her with top smugglers operating from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
On Tuesday, senior IAS officer and secretary to Vijayan, M. Sivasankar was removed from office and in the evening was divested of the IT secretary's post, too.
Sivasankar is currently in the dock and Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding a probe by the CBI or Enforcement Directorate (ED) to unravel the gold smuggling case in which the UAE consulate also figures.
"I write this letter as Leader of Opposition in Kerala Assembly with utmost concern at the misuse of diplomatic immunity of UAE consulate, here by international gold smuggling cartels with the collusion of officials working under government of Kerala who have deep rooted connections with decision makers at the office of Chief Minister. I solicit your immediate intervention to investigate into his nefarious act, which has serious implications on India's national security and has the potential to irreparably damage the age-old friendly ties between India and the UAE. In this contest I request an investigation into the matter by agencies like CBI and the ED," wrote Chennithala.
Reacting to Sivasankar being booted out of the posts, Vijayan said the Left is a "special breed" and the opposition Congress-led UDF can never match the ruling alliance.
"We do things differently and the reason why Sivasankar was asked to go is because of the report that he knew that woman," said Vijayan and added that this woman never worked in any government organisation and hence the government has nothing to do with it.
"The Congress opposition is trying to create what happened when they were in office during the solar scam (when a woman named Saritha Nair dealing in solar panels had alleged links with three staff of then Chief Minister Oommen Chandy) and hence they think of that. But we are of a different breed. We do not get soiled with such things," said Vijayan.
"We ordered a judicial probe and just see what he (Vijayan) is doing now. I have nothing against anyone as I am a strong believer in God and truth will always triumph," said Chandy.
State Congress president and former Union minister Mullapally Ramachandran demanded a probe under COFEPOSA and demanded Vijayan also should be covered under it.
Earlier in the day speaking to the media Chennithala said Vijayan now fears that fingers are being pointed at him and hence he has made his secretary the scapegoat.
Chennithala's demand came soon after Sivasankar was removed as the CM's secretary and later applied for long leave. Vijayan apart from holding the Home portfolio also heads the IT department.
CPI-M State secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said wrongdoers will not be protected and every aspect will be looked into.
The CPI-M 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.
On Tuesday morning, Vijayan was closeted with the state police chief and the chief secretary.
What has stung many is the way the woman named Swapna Suresh made inroads into the seat of power.
She was earlier working with Air India's ground handling agency after which she joined the UAE consulate here. There she came in touch with its PRO Sarith who is currently under arrest in the gold smuggling case, while Swapna is on the run.
Sarith and Swapna are now no longer with the UAE consulate.
Various reports have come out that Swapna and Sivasankar were good friends and he was a regular visitor at her house. It was through these contacts that she got a plush job in the IT department which is looked after by Vijayan and Sivasankar.
"Just look at her salary, it's mind boggling. What sort of 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 on what we are seeing in Kerala which involves links with smugglers," said former state minister and senior RSP leader Shibhu Baby John.
Senior BJP leader P. K. Krishnadas also came down heavily on Vijayan and alleged he is continuing to protect Sivasankar.
"Sivasankar was 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 owns 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 claimed.
The UAE consulate, however, denied any involvement of its personnel in this case and said that the person who is in custody was dismissed from the consulate much earlier.
On Sunday, the Air Customs attached to the Thiruvananthapuram airport had made a seizure of 30 kgs of gold that arrived on a cargo flight and was kept in a warehouse here 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.