Gold smuggling case: Pressure mounts on Kerala CM Vijayan to quit after aide’s arrest

With the arrest of M Sivasankar, senior bureaucrat, pressure is mounting on Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to resign. Opposition parties Congress-led UDF and BJP have been clamouring for his resignation ever since Sivasankar, former Principal Secretary to CM, emerged as the key accused in the gold smuggling case.

Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that Vijayan lost all moral authority to continue in the office of Chief Minister. BJP president K Surendran also lashed out at CM Vijayan for allowing his office to be used for anti-national activities.

Meanwhile, noose seems to be tightening around Kerala Chief Minister’s neck after Enforcement Directorate arrested Sivasankar on October 28. ED and Customs department officials subjected him to a seven-hour long interrogation. He was taken into custody immediately after Kerala High Court rejected Sivasankar’s petition for anticipatory bail. He was taken into custody from a private  Ayurvedic hospital in the capital city of Tiruvananthapuram where he had taken shelter couple of weeks before, allegedly to evade arrest. He complained chest pain on October 17 when he was asked to appear before Customs officials for interrogation.  When the doctors, after several investigations, declared that his health was perfect, he resorted to the Ayurvedic hospital. This time the complaint was of back pain. The sole goal was to evade further interrogation and consequent arrest.

The panel of judges observed that anticipatory bail would block further interrogation. The statements of the Chartered Accountant Venugopal and prime accused Swapna Suresh have exposed Sivasankar very well.

Immediately after taking into custody, ED officials took him to the Kochi centre of ED.  Once he was brought to Kochi, ED and Customs officials started to interrogate him. It prolonged for  seven hours. He is supposed to be interrogated in connection with the alleged money laundering in connection with the gold smuggling with the alleged UAE consulate link. It is to be remembered that BJP and Congress-led UDF have been alleging the link of the Chief Minister’s office in the gold smuggling case.

The gold smuggling case attained significance when NIA took up the investigation in July this year under UAPA provisions. Since Sivasankar was the blue eyed boy of the Marxist CM, BJP and UDF have been targeting Pinarayi Vijayan. When the gold smuggling case came up CM refused to blame Sivasankar. He made up his mind to sack him as his Principal Secretary only after he was summoned by NIA for investigation. The statements of prime accused Swapna Suresh and other accused spoke volumes about the involvement of Sivasankar in the smuggling case. It was revealed that he visited Dubai with Swapna several times. In most officials tours,  the bureaucrat used his personal passport instead of the diplomatic passport. It was also revealed that he assigned Charted Accountant Venugopal for Swapna Suresh, obviously to handle the bribe monies “properly”. Accordingly the investigation officers found more than one crore rupees in Swapna’s bank locker. It was exposed that Swapna had smuggled out lakhs of US dollars, bought from the black market. They were taken to Gulf countries, again with the help of Sivasankar. Interrogations revealed that Sivasankar arranged a rented apartment for Swapna where he used to spend his evenings with Swapna and others who are accused in the gold smuggling case.

The illegal acts under the UAPA are offences under Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). Naturally, BJP and Congress have demanded the immediate resignation of the CM Pinarayi Vijayan. Union Minister and BJP leader V. Muraleeharan, state BJP chief K. Surendran and LoP in the Kerala Assembly and Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala have already aired this demand.

Whether Pinarayi resigns or not, he has proved to be either the weakest and most inefficient CM the state has ever seen or the most corrupt CM of the state. No other CMO in the country has been exposed with gold smuggling links.  Swapna has revealed, during the interrogation that she was introduced to Sivasankar by the CM during a meeting at Cliff House, the official residence of the CM. She said, Sivasankar was introduced as the interface between UAE Consulate and the Government of Kerala. It was in the presence of the UAE Consul General. Now, out these three, two are arrested.