Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, whose government had won international accolades in its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, is in a spot after being caught on the wrong foot in a sensational gold smuggling case. The case, where diplomatic channels were used for the first time to smuggle the yellow metal, also left Vijayan red-faced as his top aide and principal secretary, M. Sivasankar, all egedly extended favours to Swapna Suresh, 36, a key accused in the case. The 30 kg of gold, worth Rs 15 crore in the market, was concealed in diplomatic baggage addressed to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) consulate in Thiruvananthapuram. Customs officials say that the accused had used the same channel at least thrice before to smuggle in gold worth Rs 30 crore (60 kg in all).
Sivasankar, 57, a 1995 batch IAS officer who was also principal secretary of the information technology department, is now under the National Investigation Agency (NIA) scanner for his connections with the accused. Customs authorities raided his rented f lat opposite the state secretariat on July 11, a day before Swapna and her associate Sandeep Nair were arrested from Bengaluru by the NIA.
The confessions of the accused may even lead to the arrest of the bureaucrat, giving the opposition a golden opportunity to take Vijayan down a few notches. The all-powerful chief minister’s detractors are in a hyperactive mood, hoping the gold smuggling case dents his hitherto untainted image. Pinarayi, say government insiders, is paying a heavy price for not keeping an eye on his aides and their private affairs.
But it is not just Vijayan alone that the scam threatens to unsettle. It could also draw in other major parties into the quagmire. The accused—Sarithkumar, Swapna Suresh, Sandeep Nair and K.T. Rameez—who are in NIA custody have political links with the CPI(M), BJP and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), directly or indirectly.
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July 27, 2020