Kochi: A former official of the UAE consulate has been taken into custody and is being questioned over the smuggling of 30kg of gold in the diplomatic baggage in Thiruvananthapuram. A huge racket is suspected to be behind the smuggling that has been going on for over a year, sources in the Customs department said.
A former PRO of the Consulate, Sarith is being questioned at the Kochi unit. He has reportedly confessed to the crime. The probe team is also investigating the role of another former Consulate staff in the gold smuggling case.
The Customs is also collecting details of four officials. As the officials have diplomatic protection, the probe officers have sought legal advice before taking further action.
Gold worth Rs 13.5 crore was found in the baggage from Dubai, addressed to the UAE Consulate. This was the biggest gold haul in Kerala. Also, the first instance of gold being seized from diplomatic baggage in Kerala. The DRI had seized 25kg of gold on May 13, 2019.
Customs swung into action after getting tip-off
The Customs got a tip-off about the gold smuggling via diplomatic baggage last week. Since it was a diplomatic cargo, the officers were careful. The Customs Commissioner first informed the Centre. After getting permission from the Ministry of External Affairs, the cargo was opened in the presence of the Consulate representatives and the gold was seized on Saturday.
The consignment had arrived at the Thiruvananthapuram international airport three days ago. The gold was concealed in boxes that contained sanitaryware.
In the ensuing probe, the role of the former official of the Consulate was revealed. He was given a contract for bringing food from the UAE. Though he was ousted from the Consulate months ago, he managed to get the contract using influence. Former employee Swapna Suresh also helped him in this, the probe officers said.
When probe officers went to his house at Poonkulam in Thiruvananthapuram, he told them that he was the protocol official at the consulate. But then investigations revealed that he had been ousted from the Consulate.
He had joined as an employee when the Consulate started its operations in Thiruvananthapuram. During interrogation, the officers have reportedly got leads on prior instances of gold smuggling.
Fake ID cards of the Consulate were also forged for smuggling.
IT official dismissed
The probe is likely to be extended to the IT department officials of the state government. Swapna Suresh, a former UAE consulate employee, was working with the IT department.
Swapna, who was a marketing liaison officer at the space park of the state IT department, has been dismissed from service. A contract worker, Swapna was removed as allegations have been raised over her role in the gold smuggling case. She reportedly has links to several higher-ups.
Swapna also reportedly tried to intervene and prevent a case from being filed when the gold was seized. The officers are trying to track down Swapna, who has gone absconding.
Baggage to the Consulates are not usually checked due to diplomatic protection. The culprits exploited this. Employees of the Consulate bring in several articles from their home countries. Baggage is not checked even under suspicious circumstances.
If nothing illegal was found, it could hamper the ties between the two countries.
Due to diplomatic protection, officers have limitations in questioning the officials and conducting searches at their homes.