Kochi/Thiruvananthapuram: Gold smugglers in Kerala seem to be so well entrenched that they have likely managed to exploit diplomatic immunity and pull the strings from the higher echelons of the state government. The law enforcers are now on the lookout for Swapna Suresh, a former employee of the UAE Consulate, as she is the main accused in a gold smuggling case. The links of this racket with the extortion gang that had recently targeted film personalities like Shamna Kasim is also under the purview of the probe.
Swapna, a former employee of the Consulate, is under scrutiny over her role in forging Consulate documents to illicitly enjoy diplomatic immunity for gold smuggled from the Gulf.
The Customs department got to know about Swapna’s role in sneaking in gold through diplomatic baggage when they questioned Sarith, the former PRO at the UAE Consulate based in the Kerala capital. Sarith said Swapna was his friend, Malayala Manorma reported.
Swapna forged documents of the UAE Consulate to obtain diplomatic immunity to run her gold smuggling operations, the Customs authorities said.
It has also emerged that Swapna had hid the fact that she was employed with the Kerala IT department and that there was a crime branch investigation against her.
The crime branch has been interrogating Swapna in connection with a forgery case when she was a trainer with Air India Sats, an airport services company, for six months.
It had interrogated Swapna twice while looking into the alleged conspiracy behind a false case against an officer of the ground handling department of Air India, L S Shibu.
She had admitted that she had made false allegations against Shibu and that she had produced a woman under a false name before the Air India inquiry committee investigating the allegation.
The crime branch had called her for interrogation last month, too, but she did not turn up.
During her interrogations, there was high pressure on the police from the top to release her.
She did not reveal to the crime branch that she was an employee of the Kerala IT department.
Swapna Suresh was born and raised in Abu Dhabi. Her father, a native of Balaramapuram in Thiruvananthapuram, was employed there.
Swapna had worked with the passenger services department at the Abu Dhabi airport. She shifted to Thiruvananthapuram with her daughter after her divorce, the police said.
She worked in a travel agency for two years in Thiruvananthapuram. She then got a job in the Air India Sats in 2013.
In 2016, she returned to Abu Dhabi after the crime branch started investigating the forgery case.
She then worked as the secretary of the Consulate General in the UAE Consulate. She left the job last year. The police said she was expelled from the job due to irregularities.
In touch with bigwigs
However, the UAE Consulate job proved to be a turning point. Swapna got to know the bigwigs in the state capital while working at the UAE consulate. She was a regular presence at the parties in star hotels.
There are also reports that she is building a house worth crores of rupees in Thiruvananthapuram.
Swapna, who is good in Arabic and many other languages, would usually be a part of the teams of Arab leaders who visited Kerala.
How the 'deal woman' came to light
The statements given to the police by the accused in the actress Shamna Kasim extortion case referred to a ‘deal woman’. This revelation helped the Customs seize gold worth Rs 13.5 crore at the Thiruvananthapuram airport as it was being smuggled into Kerala in a diplomatic baggage.
While the police team investigating the Shamna blackmail case had said that the gang had indulged in gold smuggling, it did not reveal much details.
The gang was arrested after Shamna filed a case saying she was receiving extortion calls. The gang had approached her family saying they had a marriage alliance for her but started threatening her when she refused their request for financial help.
The police found that the gang was using models and actresses for its gold smuggling activities.
When the Customs came to know about this, it passed on to the Shamna case team details it had about people connected with the film world being involved in gold smuggling in the guise of stage shows in the UAE.
When the police questioned the gang about gold smuggling from the UAE, a member told the investigators about the 'deal woman’ who helped them get out of even serious cases. He told the police that the woman was a diplomat and that she had close ties with those in the ruling class.
The police shared this information with the intelligence wing of the Customs. It was based on this information that the Customs seized over 30 kg of gold that was being smuggled in a baggage addressed to a diplomat in the UAE Consulate in Manacaud, Thiruvananthapuram.
IT Secretary regular at Swapna’s flat
It is alleged M Sivasankar, Electronics and Information Technology Secretary of the Kerala government, is shielding Swapna. Sivasankar was behind her appointment as operations manager at the Space Park under the Kerala State IT Infrastructure Ltd (KSITI), which is under the IT Department of the state government.
It was after the Customs identified Swapna's role as the likely lynchpin of the gold smuggling racket, the IT Department sacked her. Swapna is now absconding. The Customs officers raided her house in the capital for over two hours on Monday.
Sivasankar was a frequent visitor to Swapna Suresh’s flat, the officer-bearers of the residents association of the building said.
He always came in the state’s car, the joint secretary of the association told media persons.
The Opposition and the BJP state president have alleged that Sivasankar had ties with the accused in the gold smuggling case.
The joint secretary said Swapna lived in the flat at Mudavan Mukal in Thiruvananthapuram till 2018. When she got a job at the UAE Consulate, she had representatives from travel agencies as visitors.
Sivasankar would also visit her, the office-bearers said.
But when the frequency of visitors increased, the association decided there was a need to control and regulate them. It, therefore, appointed a security guard.
But Swapna’s second husband once assaulted the security guard, the association office-bearers said. The guard was paid off to end the case, they alleged.