Thiruvananthapuram: The seriousness with which the National Investigation Agency is taking the Kerala gold smuggling case can be gauged from the fact that it arrested the two main accused, Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair, within 24 hours of taking over the investigation.
It is not relaxing after the arrests. It has put one of the most celebrated police officers in Kerala to interrogate the two.
Swapna and Sandeep, who have been brought to Kochi, will be interrogated by Shoukath Ali, the additional superintendent of police of NIA who arrested top CPM leaders in the T P Chandrasekharan murder case and who climbed the Mudakozhi hill in the middle of the night to capture Kodi Suni and his gang.
NIA DySP C Radhakrishna Pillai, who has won praise for his work in the Panayikkulam SIMI camp case and the Kaliyikavila shooting case, is in charge of the gold smuggling case investigation.
Shoukath Ali, who caught the culprits in the T P Chandrasekharan case, later went on deputation to the NIA when the LDF government came to power in Kerala.
Political centres would now be anxiously waiting to see what his next steps would be, given that he has been tasked with the main responsibility in the gold smuggling case.
Those in the police force say that Shoukath Ali is an officer who completes any task given to him without fear. He is an officer fit for action.
Whenever there is a riot or violent march, officers first consult Shoukath Ali on how to put an end to them.
When other officers were reluctant to arrest CPM leader P Mohanan, Shoukath Ali took up the responsibility.
The capture of Kodi Suni and his gang at Mudukozhi hill is a part of the history of Kerala Police — Shoukath Ali, who was at the helm of that operation called ‘silent night’, had climbed the hill in the cover of darkness at night to make the arrest. It was the first such operation carried out by the Kerala police.
The midnight operation
When Kodi Suni and his gang members gave the police the slip a couple of times after information about raids planned against them were leaked, the special investigation team that was looking into the case decided to form a unit under the leadership of AIG Anup Kuruvilla John and conduct the operation at night.
Only those who were trusted by the higher officers were part of the unit.
On the night of the operation, the police blocked all the three roads leading to the hill from three panchayats — Muzhakkunnu, Thillenkeri and Malur — to prevent the escape of Kodi Suni and his aides. They made it seem like a routine vehicle check barricade.
A team of more than 20 policemen, led by DySP AP Shoukath Ali, travelled in a tipper lorry from Vadakara and reached Muzhakkunnu at 2am. They chose this mode of transport to avoid suspicion because many tipper lorries go to the place to transport bricks.
The team went there in the guise of brick workers.
After reaching Peringanam from Vadakkara via Mahe, Thalassery, Koothuparambu, Mattannur, Uliyil and Thillankeri, the team climbed the hill.
Another small team from Mahi climbed down Purulimala via Uruvachal and Malur and reached Muzhakkunnu. A third team climbed up to Mudakkozhi Hill through Muzhakkunnu and Kadukkapalam.
The policemen trekked through forests with the help of just the mobile light to climb the slope of the hill.
The teams reached the base of the operation around 2am. It had started to rain by then. As it started raining heavily, the police found it increasingly difficult to climb the slippery hill. But it also proved to be a blessing as it drowned the sounds of their movements, which could have alerted the gang.
Since the police team was not familiar with the place, it walked an extra four kilometres to reach the gang’s hideout. When they finally reached it, it was 4am.
The hideout, a tent, was located on a steep slope about two kilometres from the nearest road at Mudakkozhi Hill in Muzhakkunnu panchayat.
It was made of plastic sheets and Kodi Suni and his aides — Shafi and Kirmani Manoj — lived in it by covering the floor with blankets that were spread over plastic.
When the police surrounded the tent and went in, they found the three, besides three helpers, in deep sleep. The police woke them up, but the gang pulled out guns to fight them. The police overpowered them after about half-an-hour of struggle.