Kochi: The Enforcement Directorate has raised crucial allegations against M Sivasankar, the former principal secretary to the Chief Minister though he is not one of the accused in the gold smuggling case.
He was closely involved in the financial dealings of Swapna Suresh, the main accused in the gold smuggling case, the partial charge sheet the agency has filed in the court against Swapna and two other accused in the smuggling case states.
Sivasankar is likely to be questioned by the ED again after the examination of digital evidence is completed.
Crucial WhatsApp chats on bank locker
The ED has obtained evidence to show that Sivasankar had opened the bank locker for Swapna Suresh. The Rs 30 lakh found in Swapna's account was deposited in the bank after Sivasankar suggested that she put it in a fixed deposit.
According to the charge sheet, the ED has also obtained audio clips of WhatsApp conversations Sivasankar had with Swapna, and the two had with his chartered accountant, regarding the transactions.
Sivasankar had introduced Swapna to his chartered accountant. He had accompanied her when she went to meet the chartered accountant with the money to open the bank locker, the ED told the court. The investigation team told the court that the complete charge sheet would be filed soon after adding more digital evidence.
During interrogation, when Sivasankar was asked about the WhatsApp communications with Swapna Suresh, he had said that he did not remember anything. Therefore, the probe team has decided to question Sivasankar again after examining in detail the digital evidence that proves his interactions and transactions with Swapna.
In his August 12 and 15 statements to the ED, given under Section 50 of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), Sivasankar admitted he had facilitated Suresh to open the bank locker jointly with his chartered accountant P Venugopal with SBI, Thiruvananthapuram branch, the agency said. Sivasankar has denied having knowledge that Suresh was in possession of huge cash with her.
The proceeds of the crime had been kept in the bank locker in the form of gold and cash, which were already seized by the NIA, Kochi, the ED said.
"In the light of the above, the role of M Sivasankar, who was the key person in the present government, in the entire episode has to be thoroughly investigated and the mirror image of the electronic evidences has to be confronted with him as well as the accused persons and others", the ED said.
Although it was known that Swapna and Sivasankar shared a close relationship, information about the financial dealings between the two had not come out before.
Investigating agencies have found out that Swapna had huge deposits in various banks on which tax has not been paid.
The ED’s stand in the court, therefore, has been that the accused should not be granted bail now.
The court was scheduled to hear the bail plea of the accused on Wednesday. It, however, adjourned the consideration of the bail plea after the prosecutor said more time was needed to study in detail the charge sheet filed by the probe team.
Space Park job
In August 2019, Swapna resigned from the UAE Consulate and sought the help of the suspended IAS officer, then principal secretary of Chief Minister, to get a job, the agency said. In her statement to the ED, Suresh claimed Sivasankar had asked her to submit her resume to PriceWaterhouseCoopers Pvt Ltd (PWC) over an opening in the Space Park project under Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Ltd (KSITIL), the agency said.
Suresh had put Sivasankar's name as a reference in her resume and she was selected for the opening in the Space Park in October 2019.
She was selected in Space Park as she was close to Sivasankar, trustworthy and reliable and her appointment was with the knowledge of the Chief Minister of Kerala, the ED said, quoting her statement given to it. Suresh further stated that another key accused, Ramees, had approached her and Sarith for smuggling gold.
They decided to smuggle gold and arranged for two trial consignments, it said, adding, Sarith had forged the required documents and after clearance, he and Suresh handed over the gold to Sandeep Nair.
Gold was smuggled through Thiruvananthapuram airport on 21 occasions and she facilitated the smuggling. Sarith gave the smuggled gold to Sandeep, who in turn gave it to Ramees, it said.
Met Sivasankar in the presence of CM
In her statement to the ED on August 8, Suresh said she met Sivasankar around eight times officially, but many times unofficially. She has also said she met Sivasankar five to six times in the presence of the Chief Minister of Kerala, the ED said in the interim charge-sheet. Central agencies, including NIA, Customs and Enforcement Directorate, are conducting a separate probe into the seizure of gold worth nearly Rs 15 crore from a "diplomatic baggage" at Thiruvananthapuram International airport on July 5.
Several persons, including two former employees of the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram, Swapna Suresh and Sarith P S, have been arrested by the central agencies in connection with the case.
ED hurries with partial charge sheet
The ED has filed filed a 303-page partial charge sheet against Swapna Suresh, Sandeep Nair and Sarith, the three main accused in the diplomatic baggage gold smuggling case on Wednesday. The agency informed the court that it has found evidence about the money laundering activities of the three.
The charge sheet has been filed two months after the ED started its investigations against them by registering a case. It said the accused have violated Section 3 of the PMLA and that further action should be taken to prosecute and punish them.
The ED has hurried with a partial charge sheet as any delay in filing one would result in the accused being granted natural bail.
(With PTI inputs.)
The agency has charged six people for economic offences in the case. The probe team has decided to file the charge sheet against the other three later.