The Consulate of the United Arab Emirates in Kerala, some top officials of which are allegedly involved in the gold smuggling scandal, has shut down operations.
Officially, it is said the shut down is "temporary" and had been induced by COVID. It is said that some of the staff had to keep away because of COVID and as a consequence it was difficult to carry out the Consulate work.
This "temporary shut down" has come two days after a statement allegedly made by Swapna Suresh, one of the prime accused in the gold scandal, became public. During her interrogation by the Enforcement Directorate, she is said to have revealed that the UAE Consul-general, Jamal Hussain Al Zaaabi, had informal talks with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at the Cliff House, his official residence.
It was during this meeting that the chief minister, according to words attributed to Swapna, made his then principal secretary M Shivasankar the first point of contact in the government for any issues related to the UAE Consulate.
Fact is, the Consulate had cut down its operations, including visa stamping, right after the scandal broke out in late June and the UAE nationals among the staff quickly left for their country.
The Consulate was first swept into the grip of the gold scandal when Swapna Suresh was made the second accused in the smuggling case.
Even while working in the Space Park project, Swapna was also doing part-time liaison work for the Consulate. In her bail application, Swapna told the High Court in early July that it was at the request of Rashid Khamis Al Sheimeili, then the acting consul-general, she contacted the customs officials to get the 'diplomatic bags', in which contraband gold was found, released.
The consul-general's 'whatsapp request' to the minority affairs minister K T Jaleel in August to distribute food packets and Quran bundles also came under suspicion. There were charges that some contraband material like gold was transported in a government vehicle using the cover of the Holy Book.
The minister was interrogated by the National Investigation Agency and the Customs.
More muck was thrown at the Consulate when it was revealed that Consulate officials had taken bribes from a builder who was given the contract of the Life Mission project in Wadakkanchery, Thrissur.
The UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram was opened on October 20, 2016. The chief minister, the then governor P Sathasivam and Thiruvananthapuram MP Sashi Tharoor were present.
Given the huge number of Keralites in the UAE, the opening of the Consulate was seen as a boon for the welfare of non-residents. Getting a visa to the UAE, too, would become easier.
It is estimated that around 50 per cent of the nearly three million Indian expatriate community in the UAE are from Kerala.
This was also the UAE’s third diplomatic mission in India after the embassy in New Delhi and the consulate in Mumbai.