Customs dept steers election campaign for BJP, Congress: CM Pinarayi

Pinarayi Vijayan
Pinarayi Vijayan

Thiruvananthapuram: Declaring a war on the BJP-led central government over the Customs probe against top CPM leaders in connection with the dollar smuggling case, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Saturday lashed out at the central agency.

Pinarayi alleged that the Customs department was being used for carrying out a campaign for the BJP and Congress in the poll-bound state.

A day after the Customs, probing the gold smuggling case, claimed key accused Swapna Suresh has made "shocking revelations" against him, assembly Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan and some ministers, Pinarayi said the agency was trying to "defame" state cabinet members.

The Customs, in a statement filed in the Kerala High Court on Friday, said "She (Swapna) has stated with clarity about smuggling of foreign currency at the instance of the chief minister and the speaker with the help of the Consulate."

Responding to the allegations, Pinarayi said to serve the narrow political interests of the party ruling the centre, the customs exploited the particular mental condition of Swapna who was in their custody.

"The investigating agency cannot go ahead without evidence. Forgetting this, the Customs (gave the report in the high court) like a political statement," Pinarayi said, referring to the statement given by Swapna to a court in Kochi under Section 164 of the CrPC and to the Customs under Section 108 of the Customs Act.

Customs Preventive Commissioner Sumit Kumar
Customs Preventive Commissioner Sumit Kumar

"As the elections are approaching, the central probe agencies are attacking the state government in a more vigorous manner. They have taken up the campaign against the Left government and has been executing the agenda of the BJP and the Congress party," the senior CPM leader said.

He cited the Customs investigation into the gold smuggling case and the Enforcement Directorate probe against the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB).

"They want to destroy KIIFB, which has been proved as a development alternative to the whole country," he said.

The chief minister criticised the Customs (Preventive) Commissioner Sumit Kumar who filed the statement in court in connection with the dollar smuggling case, saying the top officer, "who is not even a party to the matter in the High Court has filed the statement to defame the Left government, its ministers and the Assembly speaker."

Kodiyeri Balakrishnan with his wife Vinodini.

He launched a scathing attack on the central agencies on a day the Left parties carried out protest marches towards the offices of the central agency in the state.

Further escalating the tension between the Customs and ruling CPM, the Customs, probing various cases connected with the gold smuggling, on Saturday served notice to Vinodini Balakrishnan, wife of former CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, asking her to appear before it on March 10.

While Vinodini said she has not received any such notice, a Customs official said she has been directed to appear before the probe team next week.

He, however, did not elaborate.

Vinodini reportedly used one of the expensive mobile phones gifted by Santhosh Eappen, owner of the Unitac Company which was entrusted to construct flats for the poor in Wadakkancherry under the state government's LIFE Mission project, to a UAE consulate official.

The Customs reportedly wanted to know how the phone gifted to the consulate official by Eapen reached Vinodini.

Vinodini has rejected the allegations.

The state government's LIFE Mission project is financially supported by the UAE-based Red Crescent aid agency.

Earlier, the Customs had arrested Eapen, the managing director of Unitac Builders, in connection with the dollar smuggling case.

Speaker Sreeramakrishnan
Speaker Sreeramakrishnan

A day after the Customs issued notice to Speaker Sreeramakrishnan, directing him to appear before its probe team on March 12, the CPM took out a march towards Customs offices in Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode on Saturday.

The CPM alleged that the central agencies were acting as a political tool of the BJP-led central government.

The dollar case relates to alleged smuggling of USD 1,90,000 (equivalent to Rs 1.30 crore) by a former finance head of the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram to Muscat in Oman.

Taking a serious note of the CPM-led alliance's move to target it politically, the Customs alleged that a political party was trying to intimidate it but made it clear that it will not work.

"A political party trying intimidation, will not work," Customs (Preventive) Commissioner Sumit Kumar wrote on his Facebook page.

He also shared posters of the LDF announcing protest march towards Customs offices in the state and newspaper cuttings relating to the dollar scam on social media.

Union Minister and BJP leader V Muraleedharan dismissed as "childish" the CPM's allegation that the BJP was politically using the probe agencies.

V Muraleedharan
V Muraleedharan

"This was not an affidavit submitted by the Customs on its own. This was a reply in the form of an affidavit by the agency to a writ filed by the Jail DGP," the union minister said.

"The Customs had to inform the court about the high level connections of Swapna Suresh. The CPM is playing the victim card... the Customs is following due procedure in the investigation," Muraleedharan said.

BJP state chief K Surendran said the CPM protest march was an attempt to change the course of the investigation in the gold smuggling and dollar smuggling cases by threatening the probe agencies.

"...the CPM and chief minister are trying to deploy party workers in the streets to threaten officials of the central agencies. The chief minister is directly misusing the whole government machinery to fight the agencies...agencies are not acting against the law," Surendran said.

K Surendran
K Surendran

CPM leader M A Baby, who inaugurated the protest march at Thiruvananthapuram, claimed Swapna Suresh, arrested in connection with gold smuggling case, was forced to give a statement against the chief minister.

"She was questioned by three probe agencies for 32 days and no such statement came. The accused is now being used as a political tool," Baby alleged.

The Left parties alleged central agencies were trying to 'tarnish' the image of their leaders by levelling baseless allegations against them at the time of polls in the state.

The Customs has become a propaganda machinery for the BJP and the Congress in the state, they said.

The National Investigation Agency, ED and the Customs conducted separate investigations into the gold smuggling racket that was busted with the seizure of gold at Thiruvananthapuram international airport on July 5 last year.

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