Swapna Suresh has been taken into custody. Sarith (left) had been arrested earlier
Two key accused in the smuggling of 30 kgs gold through diplomatic channel in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram have been taken into custody from Bengaluru by the National Investigation Agency.
Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair were on the run and their baggage was in the name of the UAE consulate. Another accused Sarith has already been arrested by the Customs (Preventive) Department.
The NIA had on Friday registered the FIR under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and said it has taken up the probe as the case has international linkages and as the initial inquiries have revealed the proceeds of the smuggled gold could be used for financing terrorism in India.
The accused named in the case are Sarith, Swapna Prabha Suresh, Fazil Fareed and Sandeep Nair.
Opposition leader in Kerala Ramesh Chennithala has alleged that the accused was helped by the state police.
“How can Swapna Suresh reach Bengaluru when there is a triple lockdown under way in Thiruvananthapuram city? It is evident that the police helped her,” Mr Chennithala alleged.
BJP state President K Surendran has raised a similar allegation. He tweeted:
The NIA has arrested Swapna Suresh in record time, within two days of begining the investigation. But who helped Swapna Suresh to flee Trivandrum which is in Tripple lock down. @vijayanpinarayi who also handles the home portfolio has a lot to answer. pic.twitter.com/t7inkrplMy
— K Surendran (@surendranbjp) July 11, 2020
The gold valued at around Rs 15 crore was seized by the Customs (Preventive) Commissionerate, Kochi. Swapna Suresh, Sarith and Sandeep Nair of Thiruvananthapuram and Fazil Fareed of Ernakulam have been listed in the smuggling case as accused.
Ms Suresh is a former employee of the UAE consulate and a former marketing officer of a firm linked to Kerala’s information technology department. The Chief Minister’s Office said her contract was terminated after the serious allegations surfaced.
The opposition has alleged the accused has links with the Chief Minister’s Office, and that they were attempts to shield her. The Chief Minister has denied this. An IAS officer has been removed from the Chief Minister’s Office and replaced as IT secretary amid protests by the opposition.
“From the evidence gathered so far it appears that Ms Swapna Suresh is a pivotal member of a gang engaged in smuggling of large quantities of gold to India by defrauding government agencies and customs department by using the cover of diplomatic protection and further she has conspired and actively participated to facilitate the act of smuggling,” the customs department said in a report submitted to the court.
The customs alleged that officials started checking the baggage at 1 pm on July 5 and Ms Suresh switched off her phone by 3.15 pm. The report said she is on the run and is avoiding summons to evade the probe.
The wife of Sandeep Nair – the other accused taken into custody has smin her statement to Customs had said that her husband used to “smuggle gold with the help of Sarith and Swapna”. She alleged they would do so for other gangs as well.
“Ms Swapna would arrange papers for getting cargo of the consulate cleared from the air cargo complex,” Mr Nair’s wife has said.
Sandeep Nair’s residence is being raided by officials of Customs Department at Aruvikkara, news agency ANI reported.