Kochi: The Customs Department has got more evidence about the links the former principal secretary to the chief minister, M Sivasankar, had with the accused in the gold smuggling case.
According to a witness statement given to Customs, he got in touch with Sandeep Nair, an accused in the case, after the gold smuggling racket was detected at the Trivandrum International Airport on July 5. However, Sivasankar denied this during questioning recently.
When he was shown a photo in which he is seen with another accused K T Ramees, Sivasankar said it was not genuine.
When he was asked about his use of personal passport and tourist visas for official travel, Sivasankar said he had done that with the permission of the state government. He also told the Customs Department that the entire cost of his travels that were done without the permission of the Centre was borne by the state government.
Sivasankar was asked to produce documents to prove his claims, but the department is yet to receive them, according to a senior Customs official.
The Customs Department has found that Swapna Suresh, another accused in the gold smuggling case, had gifted an iPhone to Sivasankar and that the iPhone was given to her by Santosh Eapen, the owner of construction company Unitac. However, it is not clear whether this is one of the five iPhones that Santosh Eapen said he had given to Swapna.
It is, however, now clear that Sivasankar had no role in the distribution of religious texts that were imported through the UAE consulate.
Sivasankar although has admitted to Customs officials that dates imported from the UAE were distributed to orphanages in the state as per his instructions. The Customs has decided to impose a fine on Sivasankar in a case that is looking into the import and distribution of dates.
Swapna smuggled Rs 3.8 crore in dollars
Santosh Eapen, the managing director of Unitac Builders, has told investigators that Swapna Suresh and her gang smuggled dollars abroad in the middle of August in 2019. According to his statement, the Rs 3.80 crore that was paid as commission to get the contract for the Life Mission project in Wadakkanchery was also smuggled abroad in dollars.
Santosh said that Khalid Ali Shoukri, an Egyptian national who worked at the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram, and three others boarded a flight to Qatar with cash. He also revealed that while Khalid went to Cairo from Qatar, the three who accompanied him left for Dubai with the money.
Third Customs case in gold smuggling investigations
The dollar smuggling case is the third to be registered by Customs as part of its investigations into the gold smuggling that was detected on July 5.
Earlier, it had questioned M Sivasankar, the former principal secretary to the Chief Minister, in connection with the two other cases on imports of dates and religious texts.
Sivasankar has not been made a respondent by Customs in the dollar smuggling case. According to the Customs Act, only after taking the statement of those suspected to be involved in the case (person of interest) can a decision on naming someone as an accused can be made.
Investigations have revealed that the operation to smuggle dollars was led by Khalid Ali Shoukr with the help of Swapna and P S Sarith, another accused in the gold smuggling case. The Customs Department is now looking at whether Sivasankar was involved in converting rupees into dollars for smuggling.
Customs had approached the economic offences court for permission to question Swapna and Sarith, who are currently in jail under the custody of the NIA, and to record their arrest. It will file a new application on Monday with the amendments suggested by the court.x
Customs seizes phone of Jaleel's gunman
The Customs Department has seized the phone of minister KT Jaleel's gunman and taken it for examination.
The gunman, a resident of Vattamkulam, is said to have used the phone during the kit distribution that had become controversial. Two of the gunman’s friends have been questioned. One of them is a merchant who provided cloth bags for the kit.
The gunman is in home quarantine after he was infected with COVID.